1:00am

Fri November 11, 2011
Kentuckians at War

Flight Mechanic Carries "Fallen Angels" From Combat

The adjustment to military life was relatively easy for Rebecca Stinsky.  Her mother, stepfather, and siblings all wore service uniforms.  Their experience encouraged her to join Navy junior ROTC in high school.  After graduation it was a natural progression to the Marines.  As an aviation mechanic Stinsky wanted to work on the ‘biggest, baddest helicopters the Corps had to offer.”  But Stinsky found out maintaining a military helicopter and filling in as a door gunner were two very different jobs.

“First time I was there, I was nervous, because, uh, when you fly overseas, you actually have 50 cal guns in your windows and on your tail.  You know, I’ve had some training on ’em in the States, you know? Every once and awhile, we go and we do gun ranges.  But, like, this is my first time, like, 50 cal in hand, flying over hostile territory.  And I was just, like, nervous or shocked.  Like, I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t know what to do.  And, you know, it just, once you got in the air, though, I was flying with, uh, you know, people I’ve known for two years now.  So once I got off the ground and flew around little bit nerves got calm ’cause I realized I was with people that I could trust.  And I knew what they were doing.  Um, I think we did something, like, landed in, you know, a forward operating base, a FOB, where, you know, the grunts are pushed out towards the city, dropped off some ammo, picked up some guys, flew ’em back.  And then that was just kind of the routine from there on out.  Load on 24 people, take ’em somewhere, drop ’em off, load on crates and boxes and take ’em somewhere and drop ’em off, pick up more, you know?

Once we actually started getting into the tempo of things, I flew for four days and had three days off.  But as a squadron, I think we did three or four missions a day, two birds each. 

Our unit came back all in one piece.  You know, we, we didn’t lose any aircraft.  We didn’t lose any people.  I think the worst that we had is, uh, one of our staff sergeants actually got, uh, smooshed by a bunk bed, like, Step Brothers style.  He was lying on the bottom bunk and someone dropped on the top and went -- and sandwiched him in, but, you know, no real serious casualties, for our unit at least.  But, uh, there was some out there, you know, that we had to respond to.  And that’s, like, the worst, worst flight ever is, uh, carrying fallen angels to and from the sites.

Whenever a military member dies overseas, you know, there’s a certain time period to get ’em back to the States.  And so since we were stationed at Camp Leatherneck, which is the main base down there, we fly out to the smaller ones, pick up the bodies or the remains, and then fly them back to Camp Leatherneck where they’d be loaded to a C-130 and flown back to the States.  And, uh, not only carrying, you know, bodies, but there was a Huey Cobra crash out there, which are two smaller types of helicopters.  And, uh, that was probably the worst day.  I was getting ready to go on a flight, and I looked, and here comes a giant 18-wheeler with scraps of aircraft pieces on it, because once a plane crashes, you have to collect all the evidence so that they can do an investigation and find out why it crashed.  

It kind of shook the complacency from there, ’cause, I mean, we had been there for five, six months now, you know, doing the same thing every day, coming to work, get in the plane, go for a flight, come home, eat, pass out, and do it all over again.  You know? And this just kind of was a reality check to -- whoa, wake up.  You know? Remain vigilant.  Always keep your eyes on your other plane, know what’s going on.”

Today, 23 year-old Rebecca Stinsky is enrolled at the University of Kentucky, majoring in Social Work.