Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fiddlers Green

Two US Army Aviators have made the ultimate sacrifice to this nation.

You may have heard about it, most likely you didn't. It only warranted a passing remark when I heard about it on FOX the other day. Two pilots died today in an accident in the western part of Baghdad and it's under investigation...that's all they said and all they will ever say about these two Soldiers.

The official Army News Release says this:

NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense

Dec 28, 2005 Media Contact: Army Public Affairs - (703) 692-2000

DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers, who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

They died in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 26, when their Apache helicopter collided with another military aircraft in mid-air and then crashed. Both soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

Killed were:

Chief Warrant Officer Richard M. Salter, 44, of Cypress, Texas.

Chief Warrant Officer Isaias E. Santos, 28, of Ancon, Panama.

The incident is under investigation.

For further information related to this release, contact Army
Public Affairs at (703) 692-2000.

Most people will never know that every night in western Baghdad and other places around the world Apache pilots fly through the pitch black darkness, looking for the bad guys, protecting a convoy, flying over-watch for those guys on the ground. Even though this was an accident, their sacrifice was made in a noble effort and I hope their families can take some comfort in that.

I knew Matt Salter from a previous assignment, he was a great guy and a credit to his family, his Army and the United States of America. Unfortunately,I never knew Mr. Santos but I'm sure his loss strikes everyone just as deeply as Matt's passing.

I'm sure Matt and Isaias will be waiting for us at Fiddlers Green. Save a cold one guys.



Worthless Scumbag

The following is an example of the worst type of INDIVIDUAL this nation will ever produce. If it was up to me I would bust him to PV-1 and have him ride convoys up and down RT Irish for the amount of time his unit was deployed. At least that might spare some soldier some misery.


This is from The State a South Carolina Newspaper...

Desertion lands pilot in jail for 10 months Spartanburg soldier abandoned his Guard unit before Iraq deployment

By CHUCK CRUMBO Staff Writer

An S.C. National Guard helicopter pilot has been sentenced to 10 months in a military prison for deserting his unit before it deployed to Iraq.
Chief Warrant Officer Alex Pitts of Spartanburg pleaded guilty to two separate charges of desertion and one charge of being away without leave (AWOL) under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Pitts also pleaded guilty to “missing movement” — a military charge for not reporting when his unit left McEntire Joint National Guard Base for Fort Bragg, N.C., and eventual deployment to Iraq.
Pitts was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment. Two of the unit’s pilots were killed Dec. 9, 2004, in a crash with another helicopter near Mosul, Iraq.
According to Army documents, Pitts reported for duty Aug. 10, 2004, and then “attempted to shirk combat duty by quitting (the) unit.”
The Apache unit then left Aug. 13, 2004, for Fort Bragg with Pitts missing, the documents said.
Pitts resurfaced in December 2004 at Fort Hood, Texas. When Army officials learned Pitts was an aviator, he was ordered to go to Fort Bragg.
But Pitts never reached Fort Bragg. He later was apprehended at his home in Spartanburg and then sent to Fort Knox, Ky.
Pitts was to be held in the Personnel Control Facility until he could be transported to Fort Gordon for court-martial. When MPs went to Fort Knox on May 13 to pick up Pitts, who was restricted to the post, he was gone.
On May 26, authorities found him at a house he was renting in Spartanburg and took him to Fort Gordon, according to the Army report.
Prior to the call-up of his unit, Pitts spent 18 months training to be a chief warrant officer and an Apache pilot, said Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Brooks.
Pitts pleaded guilty Dec. 12 to all charges at a court-martial at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Pitts also received a dishonorable discharge and was fined $100,000. If he doesn’t pay the fine, Pitts will have to serve six more months in prison.
Desertion is a rare charge among National Guard members. Brooks said this is the first incident since he became spokesman for the S.C. Guard 14 years ago.



Saturday, December 24, 2005

Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq

This is from the GUARDIAN

Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq

· Danger and anti-war stance keep celebrities away
· Shows now depend on Christian hip-hop groups

Jamie Wilson in Washington
Saturday December 24, 2005
The Guardian

During world war two American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.
Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.




Merry Christmas

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas! Here's to you getting that Red Ryder BB Gun with the compass in the stock and the thing that tells time and avoiding that set of pajamas that makes you look like a deranged easter bunny.

I wish everyone the HAP-HAP-HAPPIEST Holiday since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny F*@king Kaye!

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Joke Sure to Offend Someone

As we join the action, a young Lieutenant is sitting by himself during the Holiday season at a local bar and grill (Chotskis, Flingers you name it). A young boy approaches the LT and asks: Are you a Lieutenant?

LT: Sure am kid, wanta' wear my hat?

KID: (putting on LT's hat) WOW! (and he runs off down the isle)

The kid running down the isle runs smack into a CW4 coming out of the rest room, obviously fresh off the flight line still in his flight suit.

KID: Excuse me Sir...hey are you a Warrant Officer?

CW4: Sure am sonny...want to suck my D*&k?

KID: Oh no sir, I'm not really a Lieutenant I'm just wearing the hat.

Too Much Information

Alright now she's gone too far...this story is from The Defamer

When JV Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was non-grievously bonked on her pretty noggin by a section of pipe last week, we sheepishly admit that our first thought was not, “Wow, we hope that she’s OK and makes a speedy, heroic return to work,” but “Hey, how much hair does she have on her ladyflower?” Page Six sets our minds at ease:

DESPERATE housewife Eva Longoria says she only discovered her sexual self after she got some pruning done in an intimate area. “It was when I was 25 or 26,” the star, 30, told the Mirror in London. “I never waxed or really paid attention to that area. It opened the door to a whole new sexual side of me. Getting in touch with your inner sex goddess would begin with the Brazilian wax.”
A hearty high-five to Longoria’s quick-thinking publicist, who’s done an admirable job keeping her name in the press to offset all the Emmy attention her co-stars are receiving. An item about her client’s bikini area is a welcome change of pace, and a nice gossip-sheet placeholder until the next time she’s photographed leaving a club holding hands with a B-lister she’s not actually sleeping with.

That story wasn't too bad when you compaire it with this...

Actress Eva Longoriacompare is so in love with her boyfriend Tony Parker, she has had his initials tattooed in an intimate area of her body.

The "Desperate Housewives" star, 30, started dating the San Antonio Spurs basketball ace after ending her on/off relationship with 'N Sync hunk JC Chasez in January.

Longoria enthuses, "You can see three of my tattoos, they're all on public display, but the one that has Tony's initials is only seen by him.

"I'm not saying where it is -- but let's just say he gets to view it on a very regular basis!"

So when they break up is she going to tell the next guy that "TP" stands for, " never mind that was too easy.

Now I know I must accept responsibility for this you might recall I said in the memo to scantly clad actresses that we wanted more wanton slut and less thinking woman. EVA A LITTLE BIT GOES A LONG WAY...enough with the cootch stories, too much more of this and you'll be appearing as a featured dancer at the Doll House in Killeen. I'm sorry folks I just can't control her anymore.

For all you gun nuts here's another story:

I think it's BS but here ya' go...
Longoria an Experienced Hunter
"Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria has unveiled a hidden skill -- she's highly experienced at shooting and skinning animals.

The dainty beauty, who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, often went out on the range with her family at the end of each school week for lessons on how to live off the land.

She says, "(I was) hunting with my dad since I was 6. I still go with him to this day.

"I can handle a gun. Hello? Yes. I could skin a deer, I could skin a pig. I can pluck a quail -- you name it, I've done it. A pioneer woman."

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Photo of the Week: F-4D

This shot is of the Collings Foundation F-4D painted in the markings of the 555th TFS and more specifically GEN Ritchie/ COL DeBellevue the only USAF aces of the Vietnam War.

I took this at the Randolph AFB air show.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

The Island...a quick DVD review

I watched a movie called The Island over this weekend. It's a movie starring a young Obi Wan and that girl from Lost in Translation.

It's quickly established that this pair are only two of many clones that are living in a facility awaiting a grizzly fate...except the clones don't know that they are clones, they think they are survivors of some biological/chemical attack and are awaiting their chance to move to the Island where they will live out an Adam and Eve experience to re-populate the world. In actuality when they leave for the "Island" they are whisked into an operating room where their organs are harvested and they are killed off. Obi Wan discovers this...because he is a smart clone...and the adventure begins.

Actually this movie wasn't all that bad...and seeing as though I watched it on DVD and didn't spend 8-20 bucks on tickets it was well worth the price of rental.

A quick quibble with one scene that was not only un-necessary, it's seemed to me at least both awkward and almost like it was pushed in there at the last moment because someone insisted that it be there...for those of you who have seen the movie and want to guess what I'm talking about...go to the comments now...don't read another word.

OK....I'm talking about the scene where the President has a clone, and they remark about how stupid he (the President) is. To me it didn't fit and it seemed so un-necessary and frankly stupid. For people who are supposed to be so creative and smart and whatever other adjective one uses for lame can you get? I guess all their Hollywood buddies were laughing their asses off at that one. I can here them now, "and then he said, "that guy's an idiot"...and the president in the scene looks sorta like those idiots will get what we're talking about."

OK whatever, didn't ruin the movie for me...but it was one of those Scooby Doo...UUUUUGH? moments, for me at least...don't let it stop you from renting it. Scarlett Johansson is a Babe, she's a robo-babe, if she were President, she'd be Babraham Lincoln.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pictures of the Week, F-15s

These photos were taken during my Korean experience a few years ago.

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You won't see this too many places.

This Resolution was passed today by the House of Representatives by a margin of 279-109 with 11 non-voting and 34 cowards (32(D) 2(R)) voting present, or in other words "I'm such a spineless worm I won't even choose a side". Feel free to look up your elected representative and find out if they have a spine, are blue falcons or if they are collaborators.

Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to achieving victory in Iraq. (Introduced in House)



1st Session

H. RES. 612
Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to achieving victory in Iraq.


December 15, 2005
Mr. HYDE (for himself and Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on International Relations, and in addition to the Committee on Armed Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned


Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to achieving victory in Iraq.

Whereas the Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, the first to take place under the newly ratified Iraqi Constitution, represented a crucial success in the establishment of a democratic, constitutional order in Iraq; and

Whereas Iraqis, who by the millions defied terrorist threats to vote, were protected by Iraqi security forces with the help of United States and Coalition forces: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That--

(1) the House of Representatives is committed to achieving victory in Iraq;

(2) the Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, was a crucial victory for the Iraqi people and Iraq's new democracy, and a defeat for the terrorists who seek to destroy that democracy;

(3) the House of Representatives encourages all Americans to express solidarity with the Iraqi people as they take another step toward their goal of a free, open, and democratic society;

(4) the successful Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, required the presence of United States Armed Forces, United States-trained Iraqi forces, and Coalition forces;

(5) the continued presence of United States Armed Forces in Iraq will be required only until Iraqi forces can stand up so our forces can stand down, and no longer than is required for that purpose;

(6) setting an artificial timetable for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq, or immediately terminating their deployment in Iraq and redeploying them elsewhere in the region, is fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory in Iraq;

(7) the House of Representatives recognizes and honors the tremendous sacrifices made by the members of the United States Armed Forces and their families, along with the members of Iraqi and Coalition forces; and

(8) the House of Representatives has unshakable confidence that, with the support of the American people and the Congress, United States Armed Forces, along with Iraqi and Coalition forces, shall achieve victory in Iraq.

Ever Want To Be On TV?

Well here's you just have to eat bugs or whatever other kinda stupid crap they come up with. Not a big fan of the show Fear Factor...but hey, they want veterans. Any takers?

NBC is casting the 2006 season of Fear Factor, in which contestants face their fears
during a series of stunts in order to win a cash prize of $50,000. Matt Kunitz and
David A. Hurwitz, exec. prods. Shoot dates TBD.

Seeking-Military Teams: male and female, all branches of the Armed Forces, must have
both spent time in Iraq; Freaks and Geeks: must consider themselves to be a freak or
geek, freaks with Mohawks, lots of tattoos, body piercing are a plus; Singles:
18-plus, energetic, enthusiastic, outgoing, standout characters with huge
personalities; Mother and Son Teams: sons must be 18-plus; Ex's: must be former
boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses to put the past aside and become a team once again,
will compete against other ex's for a special edition of Fear Factor; Couples Over
40: must be tough and think they can conquer their fears; Family Teams: children
must be between 10-15, parents must be able to present proof of parentage or legal
guardianship, teams may be father/son, father/daughter, mother/daughter, or
mother/son, will compete together against other families; High School Seniors:
athletic, outgoing; Couples: must be either married or dating; Twins: will compete
against other twins;
Siblings: 18-plus, teams be sister/sister, sister/brother, or brother/brother.

Email names, ages, heights, weights, your home city, recent photos of your team, a
brief description of your team, phone numbers, and email address to For more info, visit $50,000 for
the winner provided. Nonunion.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

That's MORE like it...

As long time visitors to this spot may recall, in a July article entitled "A Memo to Scantly Clad Actresses", I ripped into Eva Longoria for her vapid useless political ramblings contained in what should have been an otherwise useful semi nude photo spread in one of the finer "mens" magazines also known as "AAFES Porn" (FHM, Maxim, Stuff...or any magazine that shows "almost" nekid women and is therefore acceptable to the powers that be in the sandier places in the world).

Her handlers have obviously seen the folly of letting her ramble on without guidance...what follows is what she should have told us the first time.

Eva Longoria

Where you’ve seen her:
The former Miss Corpus Christi earned her acting chops on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless and went on to star in the Emmy Award–winning L.A. Dragnet. She now stars in ABC's sexy series Desperate Housewives as cradle-robbing temptress Gabrielle Solis.

Daily buzz:
“I own two (vibrators). I have the Rabbit one, and I give that as a gift all the time. To other girls. For a birthday or the like. It's the best gift to give: an orgasm. And if I can't do it for ya, I'll give you the tools to succeed! I have one Rabbit and a Pocket Rocket.”

Lo and bi-hold:
“I do wish I had that gay experience, because I think women are beautiful creatures. They're much more attractive naked than men. And it sounds like fun. Maybe I'm just holding out for the future.”

Fightin' words:
“I really love sports. There's something so sexy and masculine when guys rattle off names and statistics. I can listen to them all day long. But if a guy doesn't like boxing, that's grounds for a breakup.” (That's bull and we all know it...nice try anyway!)

You go if you would just tell them how much you dig soldiers you'd be golden...and while your at it stop telling people about your basketball player boyfriend from France. Talk about buzz-kill.

Now we can go back to our bitching about the war etc...



Thursday, December 08, 2005


From Sacred Cow Burgers...

Pictures of the Week; Heritage Flights

Airplane Porn!

I took these shots at the Wings over Houston air show in October. It's a pretty good representation of how technology has evolved since the '40s.



Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Enemy Within

It's "interesting" what some people consider loyal opposition these days. We are a nation at war and have been since September 11, 2001. I know to most people reading this the previous statement is a no-brainier, something that didn't even need to be stated, but to an increasing number it is a concept that they evidently have some trouble understanding.

How can someone think they are doing this nation and its armed forces on the field of battle any favors by making the remark that he war we are engaged in can not be won?

How can anyone think they are doing their nation and its armed forces any favors by making the remark that our soldiers are terrorizing women and children in Iraq?

These people and those like them have completely sold out this nation for the sole purpose of political gain. As contemptible if not more so is the inaction of those who align themselves politically with these individuals and who continue to refuse to repudiate those remarks or otherwise criticize those who made them.

I have heard conservative political commentators on the radio say that they welcome these people saying the things that they did because it will help their political cause in the long run. I find that statement equally contemptible. At best it is trying to put a good face on a bad situation, but the end result is more political crap.

It's about time that politicians realize that rights come with responsibilities. Just because you have the constitutional right to say whatever the hell you want doesn't make it right , necessary or moral. If you are in a leadership position you MUST act like a leader. In a nation at war, you owe it to the nation in general and more specifically to the troops to uphold that oath that you took, "to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic" where in there did it say anything about protecting your selfish political goals over the security of this nation.

If they had ideas about how to prosecute the GWOT better or how to conduct operations in Iraq more effectively then let fly. The statements being made in the last several days are not only unhelpful, but they are the latest in a string of statements that give aid and comfort to our enemies. They encourage our enemies that if they blow up a few more bombs, if they kill some more Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines we will quit and they and every little tin pot dictator and terrorist around the world will see that if they inflict enough pain on us, if they can get enough people to whine enough we will quit...and they will win. The end result of these comments is that more soldiers, more innocent people are put in danger. And the sad thing is that THEY could give a shit as long as they get elected.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

More TV Reviews

I never expected that I would be posting so much about TV...I guess that says something about my social life.

Today I'm going to opine about two shows dealing with the military and then give you a heads up about a show that's pretty damn funny.

First is a show I saw on CMT (Country Music Television). It's a channel I don't normally watch but I was channel surfing the other night and I ran across a documentary called American Soldier. One the face of it the show has a similar format to Off to War. As I have only seen a couple of episodes I can't comment on the overall tone except to say it seems pretty balanced. There is the habit of film maker to try and dramatize EVERYTHING...and especially when viewed by someone who has already been there, it gets tiresome.

I have determined in watching three episodes that the subjects are members of the Georgia National Guard, but I am at a loss to tell you their MOS or what kind of unit they are assigned to.

In all American Soldier seemed to be a fair and balanced look at a Guard unit deployed to Iraq. It's showing Saturday nights on CMT.

UPDATEI just viewed another episode of AS. It is now evident that the soldiers being profiled work in the motor pool, I would assume in the Forward Support Battalion of the 48th Brigade. Interesting that you never seen anyone from the chain of command except the Brigadier General who is in command of the brigade these guys are assigned to. The last episode I saw featured these guys leaving Kuwait en route to Iraq, then in last nights episode they were wearing combat patches. They may do things differently in OIF III versus OIF II, but we didn't get our combat patches till about 6 months into the tour. All this indicates to me is they are showing different events out of sequence.

More troubling was the scenes of solders randomly firing their weapons when they were "engaged". It was never made really clear to the viewer what was actually occuring...just shots of soldiers while their Kevlars off, in a panic shot with a night vision lens. There's no denying that soldiers have reacted in such a manner and will continue to react that way till the end of time. But the show does us no favors by adding no context, no explanation or even adding the information that was available to the soldiers. I don't know this stuff may not be readily apparent to the non soldier, but it bothers me greatly. While I still think they do a better overall job than they guys who made OFF to WAR it is still a flawed product.

The second show I want to discuss is E Ring showing WED nights at 1900 HRS CST on your local NBC affiliate. It's common lately to hear folks complain about how everyone in Hollywood hates the military, well this show is the exception to the rule. I suppose I can be cynical and say the only reason shows like this are made is just to make money. If that is the case or not this show definitely has a pro military slant. I will say that even though there are a lot of contrived situations and things that aren't really realistic, it can definitely be an entertaining presentation that presents the military in a positive light. I can think of a lot worse things to do on a WED night. If you've got the time check it out.

Finally check of Denis Leary's show on Comedy Central, Merry F#@*ing Christmas...I believe the next time it shows is DEC 17...but I caught most of it during its premiere. It was politically incorrect and for the most part pretty funny. If you are a fan of Denis' work you will really enjoy this show. Check it out!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Heroes Beside Me

The following is a newspaper article written about my Brigade, that I just found (thanks Google!). For those who wonder what we are going to do after the "Greatest Generation" is gone...they are still here brother...and it's my pleasure to serve along side of them every day.

Helicopters must dodge death to complete missions (good Lord could you be more melodramatic?)


Knight Ridder Newspapers

TAJI, Iraq - The Black Hawk helicopter flew low and fast over the bright lights north of Baghdad, then suddenly the lights were gone. In the darkened cockpit, the two pilots could make out an expanse of date palms through their night-vision goggles.

"Two-point-five kilometers to LZ. Tell him to start the buzz saw," said 28-year-old Capt. Jeremy Loeb, of Hamburg, Pa.

In a clearing 50 feet below, an infantry soldier began twirling a chemical light - mimicking a glowing circular saw - to signal his unit's position to the helicopter.

Within seconds, the 10-ton airship hit the ground with a dull thud. Twelve soldiers who'd been huddling in the darkness sprinted toward it and climbed in one by one. Three minutes later, the Black Hawk took off with an enormous whoosh of dust and soared away, engines whining, giant rotors slapping the air. One of the soldiers, having walked and slept on the cold ground for two days in a hunt for insurgents, let out a whoop of joy.

"This is what it's all about - picking up cold, tired soldiers and bringing them back for hot chow and a shower," said the second pilot, Warrant Officer Josh Muehlendorf, 29, of Houston.

The Black Hawk's four-person crew from the 1st Cavalry Division had just completed a nighttime extraction, a routine mission in one of the unheralded corners of the Iraq war. Attack and transport helicopters are being used in Iraq with greater frequency and intensity than at any time since Vietnam.

Over the last nine months in Iraq, 1st Cavalry aviators have had to adapt their tactics to a guerrilla war in urban areas with no front lines. Their predecessor unit saw almost no combat, but as the insurgency spread in 2004 the Cav fought hundreds of air-to-ground gun battles. It's flown more hours in the last nine months than it would in four or five years during peacetime.

It's killed hundreds if not thousands of insurgents, and an unknown number of civilians.

The 54-foot-long Black Hawks, armed with manned machine guns on each door, are used to taxi troops, supplies, civilians and VIPs, and to quickly insert or remove soldiers for raids or assaults. The smaller, nimbler Apache Longbows and Kiowa Warriors, bristling with high-tech rockets and cannons, are in the air 24 hours a day to protect and sometimes rescue ground troops.

Medevac helicopters have evacuated thousands of Americans and Iraqis alike, saving countless lives. The soldiers of the aviation unit at this sprawling base a few miles north of Baghdad love to tell little-publicized tales of medal-winning valor - "real hero stuff," in the words of Col. James McConville, the Quincy, Mass., native who commands 1st Cav's 4th Brigade, the aviation unit:

_In October, one pilot of a two-seat Apache, Capt. Ryan Welch, 30, of Lebanon, N.H., landed to retrieve two downed comrades, then strapped himself to the outside of the aircraft so that a wounded man could fly inside - a move so dangerous it's almost never done.

_In April, two pilots used hand signals to stop an Iraqi train that was about to hit a huge bomb planted on the tracks - one flying sideways so the engineer could see his face.

_That same month, two others, both shot in the arm, steered a hard landing with their knees and evaded capture.

_Two aviators, Chief Warrant Officers Wesley "Chuck" Fortenberry of Texas and Shane Colton of Oklahoma, died April 11, 2004 after their Apache was hit by a missile while they were fighting to protect a Humvee patrol and a fuel-transport convoy that were under attack, and outnumbered, on the highway. Fathers of young children, the two were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the nation's highest military honors.

Outside the Kurdish regions in the north, Iraq is so menacing that pilots will risk their lives rather than leave a comrade on the ground for even a few minutes to await a pickup by infantry soldiers. While they sometimes drop soccer balls to children, the pilots never leave their fortified compound on the ground, and have almost no contact with regular Iraqis. Insurgent violence has erected a wall of mistrust between the Iraqi people and the American military.

Helicopters fly in pairs, as low and as fast as possible, using no lights at night. Pilots have learned not to hover for even a few seconds, to avoid giving insurgents a target. Those tactics were a marked change for Apaches, which were built to hover high above the earth in large formations behind advancing ground forces and launch Hellfire missiles at enemy tanks, as they did in the Persian Gulf War. During the March 2003 Iraqi invasion, the old methods led to an Apache being shot down and two pilots captured.

The Army learned that "If you're going to get into an urban fight with a small fleeing enemy, you've got to be moving," said Lt. Col. Ronald Lewis, who commands the 1st Cav's Apache battalion and has flown hundreds of combat hours.

That lesson was reinforced during the first six months of the occupation, when insurgents with shoulder-fired missiles shot down two helicopters, including a Chinook transport, killing 16 U.S. troops. From then on, helicopters no longer flew high, where they could be seen from farther away.

There are still no guarantees. A medevac Black Hawk crashed while avoiding ground fire last January, killing all nine soldiers aboard. Welch's heroism came after two Kiowas collided in midair for unknown reasons, killing two men.

In combat, the attack helicopters have turned the tide in any number of battles over the last year, from Najaf to Fallujah to Baghdad's Sadr City slum. They've conducted dozens of surgical strikes against insurgents who were observed planting bombs or setting up mortars. One snippet of aerial video shows an Iraqi man in a white car, filmed earlier launching mortar rounds, mowed down by rocket fire. Then it shows U.S. soldiers pulling artillery rounds out of the trunk of the car.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. When the 1st Cav's pilots arrived last March to take over greater Baghdad from the 1st Armored Division, "They told us that pretty much the shooting war was over," said Chief Warrant Officer Steve Wells, 38, of Lampasas, Texas, a Kiowa flier who's credited with saving the lives of two other pilots when they were shot down in Sadr City last April.

There'd been fewer than 10 combat helicopter engagements in the first year of U.S. occupation.

"From the time we walked in, starting in April, the place just exploded on us," Wells said.

Apaches, which have more combat power than several Abrams tanks, played a key role in the second battle of Najaf last August and the invasion of Fallujah in November.

It isn't always just insurgents who die, however. In August, a barrage from a Kiowa helicopter in Sadr City appeared to have killed several civilians, including a young girl and a television cameraman who was filming near a burning Bradley fighting vehicle. Amid denunciations of U.S. tactics, commanders issued a rare public apology for the civilian deaths but said the pilots were justified in defending themselves and destroying sensitive equipment.

"It's unfortunate but sometimes civilians do get killed," Welch said. "We do everything we possibly can to avoid that. And there's been lots of occasions when our guys maybe could engage an enemy target, but there was just unacceptable collateral damage."