Flinn Scholar alumnus Jonathan Rovey, a 1999 graduate of Cottonwood Mingus High School, is a tax accountant in Tucson. He’s also a helicopter pilot for the Arizona National Guard, and in December, he deployed to Iraq.
Below are selections from email letters Jonathan sent home in December and January describing his experiences, along with photos from his journey so far.
Jonathan is the second Flinn Scholar to serve in Iraq, following David Ng (’94), who was stationed in Baghdad for a year as a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service. Scholar alumnus Jon Gandomi (’99), like Ng a U.S. State Department employee, is currently stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hello from FOB Delta, Al Kut, Iraq!
I have an internet connection for a little bit, so I’ll catch you up on some of what’s been going on. (I actually wrote most of this before Christmas.) Sorry I haven’t had any individual replies yet, but thanks for all of the e-mails I’ve received. We did get mail for the first time this today, and the address I sent out before is good. As much as I appreciate your generosity, please do not rush to send any care packages. We received plenty of Christmas boxes and our offices have plenty of candy, etc available for everyone. Christmas cards, postcards, letters or e-mails are appreciated!
The weather in Kuwait and Iraq reminds us of home in Arizona. More than one person commented about liking the weather in Kuwait because of this similarity. Warm, sunny days with cool nights and mornings. Much better than Ft. Sill, OK, for us desert rats, even if the scenery is a little monotonous.
[…] The 15th, we had a couple briefings and a few other small tasks before packing up that night. Once again we had an early morning departure, with bags outside by 4:45 again. No one complained because a four day stay in Kuwait was much better than staying 4 week like a few had done on previous deployments. It was a windy morning and dust was blowing everywhere. We caught a bus to Ali Al Salem air base to catch our flight to FOB Delta in Al Kut, Iraq. Just as we were walking from the bus to the C-17, a thunderstorm opened up. After the weather delay, we flew 45 minutes north, although there aren’t many windows in a C-17, so we couldn’t see any of the “scenery” along the way. Stopped by the “theater” for an quick brief, then handed a key to my room. I’ll send more pictures and more details as time goes on. But basically, I have a 10×10 room to myself (with heat and AC), the bathroom trailer is 50′ away with hot showers and flush toilets. The DFAC has plenty of food. Yes, I’m getting plenty of exercise walking around, but life isn’t too bad.
I’ll get this sent off and try to stay consistent with sending e-mails. We are working on getting internet in our rooms, but if that fails, there are plenty of computers I can get on around the FOB, they just aren’t as convenient.
Happy New Year to all!
[…] Contrary to popular belief, the weather here isn’t perfect for flying. We were a little bit surprised about that as we expected it to be similar to Arizona. Right now the weather is generally good, but visibility is often poor; much like a layer of haze or thin clouds. Standing on the ground, it seems sunny and pleasant, but you can’t see very far and we do not plan to fly instruments here. As we get towards summer, I hear dust will be more of a problem in limiting visibility, but right now it is likely caused by moisture and pollution.
Celebrating Christmas here certainly qualifies as a different experience. I know that back home, there are some people who have to work on holidays, but I think that is easier to work around by shifting a day forward or back. But it almost didn’t seem like Christmas here. The dining facility had a nicer menu and decorated for lunch and dinner; we even got presents in the way of some care boxes the 1-150th shared with us. I wasn’t on the schedule, but flights were going out just the same, or even a little more. (One of the colonels wanted to visit all of his troops, so two helicopters went FOB hopping all day long.) I made it to a Christmas eve service, but we don’t have the facilities to have great music. At least it didn’t feel over commercialized like it often does in the US. […]
Until next time,
One problem with trying to accomplish as little as possible on your day off is you might succeed. So I didn’t get an e-mail written last week, but that just means I have two weeks of adventures to update you on.
Sometimes opportunity is being in the right place at the right time, or in my case, being next to CPT Salisbury when he decided the pilots on a mission needed to change. So instead of flying a standard passenger run on Saturday a few weeks ago, I got put on a mission to fly some Iraqi Generals and a US Colonel along the Iran-Iraq border so they could get an aerial perspective of the outposts. I enjoyed participating in the mission, because I sat in the planning, briefing, and discussion of the mission.
First, we had to decide how close we would actually fly to the border, made more complicated because it is disputed and shows differently on different maps. Depending on how close changed the threat level and who would have to approve the mission (our Lieutenant Colonel, the brigade Colonel, or a 2 star General). Makes you realize it isn’t like the US/Mexico border when you might fly from one country to another in a normal traffic pattern (like at Douglas, AZ) without much consequence. As it turned out, we stayed about 3 miles from the border. So on one hand, I appreciated it because the risks certainly were lower, but I felt a little bad for our passengers because it would have been better to get them closer. But, I’m just a WO1 pilot, not the higher-ups making the decision. Overall, the mission was very uneventful and I enjoyed getting to look into Iran and see mountains! There also was plenty of evidence of the Iran-Iraq war, including miles of trenches and thousands of dug-in revetments.
Right now I’m flying two or three times a week and most missions are between 4-6 hours of flight time. We go from FOB to FOB or airfield to airfield, carrying passengers around; one day we carried a military working dog (bomb dog), too. It almost seems like a small airline service, except everyone is required to wear a ballistic helmet and body armor. I’m still glad I’m up front for all of this, even though the crew chiefs get to stretch their legs a little more at every stop when they get out to deal with the passengers. We don’t get cold from the wind up front and I still think our job is more fun. […]
Yesterday we canceled because you couldn’t see 100′ through the fog and we had our second rain since I’ve been here. Unfortunately, the water doesn’t soak in around here, it just makes everything a very greasy, muddy mess. In a couple day, most of the ground will have dried out, but some of the puddles last for a month. Also, we get enough dew most mornings to make some of our paths muddy. Most places they have put down gravel or small rock, but anywhere there is much traffic, the rocks just smash into the mud. It is an uplifting experience walking across the mud, because I have had more than an inch built up on the bottom of my boots. At least the temperatures have been very pleasant. Some mornings I wear a light jacket and even during the middle of the day it isn’t bad to walk around outside. Too bad the temperatures don’t stay like this year-round.
On days that I’m not flying, I’ve been working on improving our “mission pack,” which is in Excel. So far I’ve made it easier to enter the information as well as automated some tasks. For one, it keeps me occupied, but it also means I have some influence on the product and try to keep our Battalion Standardization Pilot (SP) in line with our desires (he isn’t an AZ pilot). The pilots in our company have been happy with my work as it makes mission planning easier, so I feel it is worth the time I spend.
Mail is sporadic and how long it takes is anyone’s guess. My mom mailed a box on 30 Dec and it arrived 8 Jan as well as a letter she mailed on 18 Dec. Today I got a Christmas card that was postmarked 17 Dec. So the variation on delivery times is high; the fact we only have mail delivered to FOB Delta once a week doesn’t help. But, I can’t complain too much. I have slow internet, slow snail mail, okay food, laundry service, get paid and they even let me fly helicopters on a regular basis!