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LOGAN -- A U.S. military helicopter was shot down Saturday, killing at least 30 Americans. One local Army helicopter pilot describes the dangerous missions these soldiers were involved in.
Major Matthew Badell is an Army Apache helicopter pilot who has flown into dangerous combat zones in Afghanistan. He says, there's a slim margin for error and several dangers associated with such missions.
This helicopter, like any helicopter, it can go pretty fast in a straight line, but when it is over a target area -- when it is inserting itself into a target area -- it is slow and it is a very, very easy target for enemy troops on the ground.
"We know that it's a dangerous job," he said. "We know that what we're doing puts us on the edge and puts us out front."
Badell has flown several missions in Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom flying helicopters for the First Battalion 211th Aviation, piloting an Apache gun ship as an escort of the larger Chinooks. He said those involved in similar missions are heavily prepared, knowing nearly everything they need to know about the personnel, equipment and the helicopters.
"But you can't foresee everything," Badell added.
Dangers include rugged mountains, unpredictable weather and hellacious dust storms, in addition to a determined and hostile enemy force.
"But yeah, there are times when you wonder if you're going to make it back safe," Badell said. "And you know, you just keep going with the mission."
But Badell said in missions similar to Saturday's, helicopters can be especially vulnerable.
"This helicopter, like any helicopter, it can go pretty fast in a straight line, but when it is over a target area -- when it is inserting itself into a target area -- it is slow and it is a very, very easy target for enemy troops on the ground," said Colonel Jack Jacobs, U.S. Army retired and NBC military analyst.
Badell said he feels terrible about the American lives lost, especially for the soldiers' loved ones.
"As Americans, we have an opportunity to put our arms around them," he said. "Let them know we still care and that we're grateful for their service."
Before Saturday, the biggest single-day loss of life for American military members in Afghanistan came in June 2005 during an operation in Kunar Provice, when a Chinook helicopter carrying Special Operations troops were shot down. On that day, 19 Americans were killed.