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Viet War Pilots Flying In Iraq

As the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts drag on, straining resources, the U.S. military has had to turn to lots of reservists and National Guardsmen to fill in the gaps. Among them, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier in Baghdad, are some helicopter pilots from the Vietnam War who never thought they'd see another tour.

But they're back, 30 years later, a handful of veteran pilots taking to the skies over Iraq.

Chief Warrant Officer James Freeman

Dozier he can't wait to return home – again.

"I have exactly 104.55 days left before I leave. Not that I'm counting. It's not something you enjoy. It's something that you have to do."

These pilots say their mission now is mostly glorified bus-driving instead of actually firing at anyone.

"In Vietnam," recalls Freeman, "I would do 5, 6, 7, 10 combat assaults in a day. Over here, we're lucky if we've done 10 since we've been here, I think."

The Blackhawk helicopters are far more technically sophisticated than the old Hueys. That removes a lot of opportunity for pilot error, which was the main factor, Dozier says, behind helicopters being downed in Vietnam.

"It's nothing like what we did then," Freeman stresses. "Nothing." He says it's the difference between driving a stick-shift sports car and a Cadillac with an automatic transmission.

But the enemy still finds ways to take helicopters down, with rocket-propelled grenades, missiles, and even small-arms fire.

"About a month ago, we lost TWO guys. One of them, I knew," Freeman said, choking up. "They were combat deaths. They made no mistakes," he added, holding back tears.

Losing someone you know never gets any easier, Dozier observes.

But Freeman was a police chopper pilot in New York during 9-11. And he believes some sacrifices are worth it, to protect loved ones back home.

And he believes many Americans are grateful, even if they don't back the war.

"We weren't well-liked when we were over in Vietnam," Freeman says. "(And while) 53 percent of the people don't think the president is doing the right thing (in Iraq, according to recent polls), "a hundred percent of the people are backing us, as soldiers. We're not gonna get spit on, and you're not gonna be afraid to say, 'I went over here and did this.' "

Does that help, Dozier wondered?

"Well," Freeman chuckled, "having 103 days left would help instead of having 104."

In the old days, Freeman says, he was a 24-year-old flying with 18- and 19-year-olds. They called him "Grandpa." He never thought he'd be back in combat, as a real grandpa, five times over.