Pilot returns from Iraq to meet new family member

December 01, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - When Brian Lackey returned home from Iraq earlier this month, there was a new member of his family he had yet to meet.

The chief warrant officer was introduced to his daughter, 5-month-old Erin Lackey, and welcomed home by his wife, Harrodsburg native Emily, and their 5-year-old daughter, Baylee, who was four years old when he left Fort Campbell in March.

Brian Lackey, 33, is a helicopter pilot in the famed 101st Airborne Division and has been in the Army for 10 and one-half years. He hopes his tour of duty in Iraq will end in March 2004 so he can come home to stay and get to know Erin even better. He is home on a period of rest and relaxation, and will return to duty in Iraq early next month.

The UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter Lackey pilots is used primarily for transport and carries almost everything, keeping other elements of the division supplied. After dropping troops where they are needed, the Blackhawks return carrying food, water, fuel, ammunition, and, when necessary, the choppers carry casualties from the front lines to treatment areas.


It is evident when Lackey talks that he wishes he could have been at home in June when Erin was born. He credits his wife, the daughter of Lonnie and Phyllis Campbell of Harrodsburg, with holding the family together. "She is very strong," Lackey says. While taking care of their home and children, Emily Lackey is also a full time teacher at a school at Fort Campbell.

"She took the weight off of my shoulders," he said of his wife. "She supported what we were doing (in Iraq) and took care of things back home." They met when they were students at Carson Newman College and have been married nine and a half years. He grew up in Arlington, Va.

For his part, Brian Lackey was so busy around the time his second child was born that his focus had to be on his job. The unit left Kuwait and was part of the longest air assault in history, Lackey said. It came as the war got under way and the unit left Kuwait for Karbala.

Lackey said pilots were flying between eight and 10 hours a day, only stopping to refuel, and they left their engines running as their choppers took on fuel. They often slept in their aircraft.

The work is so intense that he has been in the air 350 hours in the eight months he has been in Iraq. He flew 115 hours in April and May after hostilities began at the very end of March. He said he flies 250 hours in a normal year at home, and he is approaching the milestone of 1,000 hours in the cockpit.

One of Lackey's favorite parts of the job is flying at night, using night vision goggles. "You feel more confident because you can see them, but they can't see you. You're more focused and you use different senses. Everything comes up on you fast. It's exciting."

Radio contact between helicopters flying in the dark keeps down the number of accidents and the number of casualties blamed on "friendly fire." "We fly as we train," he said. "We literally do what we do in training at Fort Campbell. It helps when we're working with other units. That's why we've had little collateral damage."

The first part of the war, Lackey and his colleagues were not at permanent bases, but in recent months, he has been based near Mosul, just a 20-minute helicopter ride from the Iraqi-Turkish boarder.

AT&T supplies a bank of 40 telephones the soldiers can use to call home, but they don't always work and the calls are not free, so phone cards are popular gifts. While the food has improved, there are better facilities for communications with home and more comfortable living arrangements, it is a very dangerous place for Americans, as it is in many parts of the country.

"The danger level is as high as it was at the beginning," he said. "(Those opposing the Americans) have gotten smarter." Everyday life is somewhat easier and Lackey credits the Army with making conditions as good as they are for the soldiers and their families.

"The Army is really good about taking care of the families. We have so many soldiers in the same situation as I was (when Erin was born) and the Army made every effort to offer us as much assistance as they can."

In Mosul, Lackey has taken part in public relations as well as flying and the Iraqis not attacking Americans are friendly and outgoing, and many of the young people speak English. U.S. forces on the ground have helped rebuild and resupply a school and reopened the largest university in Iraq, helping resupply the university with equipment including computers.

Lackey plans to make the Army his career and he'd like to remain in the 101st Airborne Division for the rest of that career, but he knows he'll be transferred to another unit when he gets home.

He is grateful for the support for the troops from home. "It's been tremendous. The support makes it easier; it lets you know they haven't forgotten you. Sometimes over there you feel so alone. The support is very warm and more than I imagined."

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