AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Commander William Hood isn’t your average Episcopal chaplain. He’s spent the lasts six months here flying in casualty evacuation missions and has seen more than what he bargained for.
Shortly after arriving here, Hood requested permission to fly to have a better understanding of the stress the Marines and sailors are being exposed to when evacuating the wounded.
After seeing the aircrew and corpsmen in the squadrons save the lives of several service members who could have died had they not gotten there on time he considers them heroes. He calls them “death-cheaters.”
Originally from Houston, Hood is a reservist who served 12 of his 19 years in the Navy on active duty, and has master’s degrees from St. Edwards University and Southern Methodist University. He was activated in September 2004 and was sent here to be the chaplain for the flying squadrons.
The strength, discipline and courage possessed by the personnel in the squadrons have made an impact on him.
“The maintainers are out on the flightline working long hours in harsh conditions every day with the uncertainty of when or where a rocket is going to hit,” said Hood. “The Marine manning the machine gun on a Huey has enough ordnance to wipe out an entire town but he doesn’t fire back because he knows there are innocent women and children there. That’s character, that’s discipline.”
Hood has flown in the venerable CH-46E Sea Knights of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadrons 268, 263 and 364 during his stay here and said he was humbled by the actions 20-something-year-old Marines and sailors performed to save the lives of wounded service members.
“The courage of these Marines and sailors is inspired by two or three things,” said Hood. “One of them is the deep love and concern for the wounded Marine or sailor who they know is counting on them.
“These guys get in a 40-year-old helicopter, fly into hostile spots sometimes, jump out and put the wounded in the ‘helo.’ Somewhere in the back of their head they’ll say it’s God, country and Corps that makes them to this. In my mind I think it’s love. The same kind of love that inspired that sergeant in Fallujah, who was wounded and dying, to throw himself on that grenade. He loved his Marines; he wasn’t trying to win a medal. And it’s the same thing for these guys, this comes from deep down.”
The success of the CASEVAC missions isn’t just attributed to the aircrew and corpsmen. Hood said everyone in the squadron is important, from the junior Marines in the maintenance shop to the commanding officer.
“This is a team,” he said. “Nobody does this thing alone and it takes a lot of people to make sure it goes well. If the planes aren’t flying we can’t go get you and your chances of surviving exponentially go down.”
The flying chaplain has influenced the Marines and sailors in the squadrons as well. Every time he flies, the call sign of the helicopter he’s on changes automatically to ‘Soul Plane.’
“I’ve been blessed to fly with these squadrons,” said Hood. “These are young Marines and sailors putting themselves in harm’s way and it was an honor to fly with them. They’re incredible men and women. If you’re a wounded Marine, when you look up and see that ‘46’ it’s amazing what a relief that is. Many times I’ve been told ‘I am so glad you guys are here.’”
Hood will be going home soon to take his granddaughter to the zoo and join his family and friends for Mexican food and ice cream. Thankful for having had what he calls the best job in the Navy and Marine Corps, he remains humble and recognizes the great things other chaplains here have done.
“I’m lucky to be here with great company and I’m no more important than any other chaplain in this base,” he said. “The Chaplains Corps has performed extremely well here and I just happened to have this position. Any chaplain would have done the same thing.”