Genoan describes life in Kandahar

After a year flying a Chinook helicopter out of Afghanistan, Genoa rancher Dan Walters shared his experience with members of the Kiwanis Club in Gardnerville on Thursday.

A Douglas High School graduate and 22-year member of the Nevada National Guard, Walters received orders to Afghanistan with the Guard's Company D 113th Aviation Company in January 2005.

Walters was in Afghanistan during a historic time for that country, playing a role in elections there by transporting boxes of ballots.

He was also there for a tragic time when a week after the September elections five aviators lost their lives when their helicopter was shot down.

Accompanied by a computer slide show, Walters took the Kiwanis Club members through 2005.

The Nevada aviators went from Reno to Fort Sill, Okla., where they underwent training before flying to Germany and then to Afghanistan.

Walters described how the aviators broke down their Chinook helicopters for transport in C-17 cargo aircraft.

Crew members rode in the back with their equipment for the 10-hour flight to Germany and then eight more hours flying to Kandahar.

"We were in Germany for 12 hours, but we didn't get to have a beer," he said. "We weren't allowed alcohol from the time we left the United States."

The 113th was assigned to the most active part of Afghanistan, the southeast. Walters described the country as being about the size of Texas.

"It was one of the most violent places in Afghanistan," he said.

In addition to the Aviation Company's dozen transport helicopters, Walters said there were also Black Hawk and Apache helicopter escorts based in Kandahar.

The aviators also dropped leaflets encouraging Afghans to turn in their weapons and not to join insurgent forces.

"When we got there, we found the kids would throw rocks at the helicopters, understandably because some of their parents hated us," he said. "So we threw candy back, and pretty soon they stopped throwing rocks. Most Afghans want to have peace."

Walters said it was April when the first helicopters were forced down by enemy fire.

The helicopters were engaged in transporting troops to search villages when two took fire.

He showed photos of the holes the armored piercing rounds made in the machines.

"In all, there were 14 helicopters shot and that doesn't include the ones that were shot at," he said.

The enemy, the environment and complacency are Afghanistan's greatest dangers, aviators were told.

Dust was the biggest environmental challenge to the aviators.

Walters said there were times when he didn't clear a dust cloud kicked up by the big helicopter's rotors until he hit an altitude of 400 feet.

"From 10 feet down you can't see anything," he said as he showed a photo of a helicopter completely obscured by dust.

Walters showed the Kiwanis members ballots used by the Afghans on Sept. 18 for elections.

Because the literacy rate was so low, they used ballots with pictures and symbols for the various parties.

The aviators transported boxes of ballots from polling places.

About a week after the elections, on Sept. 25, the aviators had their first and only casualties, the five crew members of Mustang 2-2 which was shot down by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade.

Two Nevadans were among the dead, Chief Warrant Officer John M. Flynn of Sparks and Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart of Fernley.

The dead were honored in a ceremony in Kandahar and then flown back to the United States.

"Fortunately, no one else was in the helicopter," Walters said.

"My hat's off to the infantry," he said. "We were the thing they hated and loved the most. They hated going in because they never knew what they were going into. But they loved the sound they heard when we were coming to get them."

The aviators transported commanders out to the troops during Thanksgiving, but Walters said they didn't mind, because they knew they would be coming home soon.

On Dec. 4, they lost a helicopter to enemy fire forcing a "precautionary landing."

"This is the sort of thing that scares my wife to death," he said as he showed a photo of the Chinook, which burned after the 35 crew and passengers escaped from it.

Ground crew members boxed up the helicopter's remains and packed them back with them. Walters said the soldiers riding the helicopter helped crew members to safety.


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