ARLINGTON, Va. — It was history in the making, and
literally brought tears to Lt. Col. Bob Allardice’s
eyes, an Air Force C-17 pilot who aided in the Wednesday
delivery of about 1,000 soldiers to Iraq’s northern
“There’s nothing like it. You’ve got 100 soldiers
back there, standing and yelling and stomping their feet
… and then literally running out the back of the
airplane,” Allardice said Friday during a telephone
conference call from Aviano Air Base in Italy to the
Pentagon. “It literally brought tears to my eyes.”
About 1,000 soldiers from the Army’s 173rd Airborne
Brigade, based at Vicenza, Italy, parachuted onto
Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq on Wednesday, giving
the U.S.-led war in Iraq is largest troop presence in
They flew in formation, 15 aircraft, dropping
soldiers into the black of night.
“It was a big thrill,” said Allardice, commander of
the 62nd Air Wing out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash.
About an hour out from the drop zone, the mood aboard
his craft turned serious, he said. “People focused on
For Lt. Col. Shane Hershman, commander of the 7th
Airlift Squadron attached to the 62nd, who flew as the
mission’s lead pilot, it was nothing but honor, he
“It was a whole team effort from my point of view,
and quite rewarding,” Hershman said.
But it was also harrowing.
“We didn’t know what would be waiting for us when we
got there,” Hershman said.
The formation flew with escorts to provide protection
— protection that, when all had ended, wasn’t needed,
the crewmembers said.
That isn’t the case for Air Force pilots flying
bombing missions over central Iraq and Baghdad, said
Maj. Scott Lambe, an F-16CJ pilot, who spoke via
telephone from an undisclosed location in the Middle
The night missions are the most extraordinary — when
pilots can see much of the countryside — and the
fireballs “of bombs exploding on the ground,” he said,
in the country’s capital city as the coalition continues
its bombing campaign to topple the regime.
“It’s quite spectacular watching everything happen
around you,” Lambe said. “And we’re taking fire from
people below and we’re working hard to keep our guys
safe and supporting the troops on the ground.”
The pilots are using a mixture of precision
satellite- and laser-guided munitions and at times
dropping 5,000-pound bombs, he said.
Staff Sgt. Matthew York, a KC-135 refueler boom
operator, said he’d much rather fly than sit around on
his days off — which he mostly spends sleeping.
“The pace [over the past few weeks] has definitely
increased, but that makes me better at my job. The fast
pace is great,” said York, who tells his children
“daddy’s keeping the monsters away.
“I’m trying to keep another September 11 from
happening,” he said.