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War stories: Donut in a Warthog

From Harris Whitbeck


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In our "War Stories" series, CNN correspondents tell the story of war from the perspective of one person living through, recovering from or fighting the war in Iraq.

SOUTH CENTRAL IRAQ (CNN) -- His call sign is Donut. He flies an A-10 Warthog out of a forward air base in south central Iraq and has just come back from a mission over Baghdad.

"[I was] working with a convoy of special [operations] forces guys. They had been heading north and they got stopped and were taking fire from the enemy. So they were held up and we got them back down the road and linked up with friendlies," Donut says.

Donut and the pilots like him are crucial to the coalition strategy as the front line of the Iraq war moves rapidly north, says Col. John Dobbins, Donut's commander.

"It gives a lot of flexibility to the pilots there. They can spend the time making sure they get the right targets," he says.

Donut's base is home to several dozen A-10 Warthogs, aircraft that give close air support to troops on the front lines.

For the pilots like Donut, this link to the troops on the ground gives them very direct feedback and satisfaction in their work.

"I quantify it by the guy on the radio saying, 'Thanks, you saved our bacon,'" he says.

Plus they get a bird's eye view of the battlefield.

"[I see] a lot of coalition troops doing what they need to be doing now -- setting themselves up to bring down Saddam Hussein's administration, get rid of him. And what you see beyond that is little cells of Iraqis, different groups trying to resist," Donut says.

But the Warthog pilot doesn't enjoy the same mental distance from the war that some pilots, operating from higher altitudes and greater distances, can enjoy.

So when they engage the enemy, their mind is set on protecting their own, almost as a form of self-protection.

"I don't like to think of it as, you know, so many people in that tank or so many people in that APC [armored personnel carrier]. It's a piece of military equipment that is firing on our guys, trying to kill the coalition members and ... you have to depersonalize it like that," Donut says.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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