CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT - The commanding general of the U.S. Army Central Command has his own helmet for flying and isn't shy about offering suggestions while in the air.
Others who have graced the inside of the Blackhawks being flown by a group of the Minnesota National Guard include the heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch and country singer Toby Keith.
Since January, 16 officers and 19 enlisted soldiers of the St. Paul-based 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion have been operating in a far-off portion of this base 40 miles from the Iraq border.
With combat missions ended in Iraq, the American military presence now focuses on Kuwait. When important people need to travel around the theater of operations, it is A Company of the 2-147th that takes them, working under the control of the Rhode Island National Guard. The mission patch on their uniforms bears the likeness of the Minnesota Wild hockey logo, accompanied by the words "Wild and Fearless."
The members of A Company are a close knit group and it's a good thing. Their working conditions are austere and the demands on their equipment, particularly their helicopters, are unrelenting. Dust often obscures the horizon and the heat now consistently hits over 100 degrees.
When the deployment is completed this fall, the eight Blackhawks being flown in Kuwait will be packed up and shipped back to Minnesota, where they will be refurbished and used for domestic duties. After so much time in the air, they've developed their own personalities. One of the easier helicopters to fly is known as Eleanor. The most pesky, with frequent electrical idiosyncrasies, has been dubbed El Diablo. Not surprisingly, they keep the two on opposite ends of the tarmac.
"We don't want El Diablo influencing Eleanor. Bad things can happen," said the company commander Capt. Shannon Gregory.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434