Originally Published: January 28, 2009 10:01 p.m.
Arriving in the dead of night at Kirkuk Regional Air Base in northern Iraq was like stepping into hell.
As the plane door opened, the 120-degree heat slammed into Kevin Perlak's chest like a hammer. In the distance, fires from the working oil refineries that encircled the base flared skyward, the only light in the vast, pitch-black darkness other than the small glow cast downward by flashlights as people scurried from one building to another.
The acrid smell of burning oil combined with the stench from Kirkuk's open sewers assaulted the arriving Air Force reservist's nostrils.
"It stunk," Perlak said simply.
Perlak and two fellow Prescott Police Department officers - Daryl Gladstein and Jeremy Sutton - spent six months in Kirkuk after the Air Force called them up this past May.
The three returned to the United States on Jan. 5 and will head back to work as Prescott cops in the coming weeks.
Friday night the Arizona Sundogs will honor the three avid fans during the team home game with Colorado's Rocky Mountain Rage.
The game begins at 7:05 p.m. at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
"It's our goal to celebrate those men," Sundogs spokesman Shane Ferraro said. During one of the breaks, fans will see a slide show of the men's tour of duty in Iraq, complete with a Sundogs flag and hockey sticks amid their camouflage.
In Iraq, the men did pretty much the same thing they do in Prescott - protect people. Only in Iraq, they donned 70 pounds of gear every time they stepped outside and used bigger guns.
The bad guys used bigger guns too, something Gladstein realized on his first night in Iraq.
As a heavy gunner, his weapon of choice was a M-240B machine gun. He spent his time either riding in the turret of a Humvee with his gun or manning a dilapidated tower along the base's perimeter fence line.
That night he was in one of the towers.
"We could see them coming directly over the tower," Gladstein said of the incoming rocket and mortar rounds. "We jumped under the table and the whole tower shook."
He said the Air Force condemned the towers three years ago but will not repair them because the U.S. knows it is eventually leaving the seven-square-mile base.
Perlak's job was to man the base's gates, while Sutton's job in police services had him doing all the normal things a cop would do in any small city.
Mix those duties in with frequent enemy attacks and you've got a recipe for surrealism, the men said.
Like the night of Dec. 4 when insurgents lobbed a heavy volley of mortar shells and artillery fire into the base on the same night that a firefight erupted outside the main gates.
As a voice ordered all personnel to take immediate cover, Perlak grabbed his gear and ran with his team to reinforce the gates. On his way, he saw Sutton working a traffic accident amid the chaos.
"A semi went into a ditch," Sutton said, shaking his head at the memory.
Would the three men go back if called up again?
You bet, they each said without hesitation.
"I would do it again," Gladstein said. "I certainly wouldn't relish it, but I would do it again."