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One man's job: getting Baghdad airport off the ground

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Mike Douglas blows past the checkpoint, circumventing the long line of cars waiting to get over the city's July 14th bridge to reach coalition headquarters at the Republican Palace grounds. With a gun perched in its hip- holster, a muscle-ripped arm on the steering wheel, and a commanding composure, Mr. Douglas is waved on by a US soldier who glances at him, looks at his Department of Defense tag, and says, "Go ahead, sir."

His unflappable confidence - not to mention that flashing red light he keeps on the dashboard - are the kinds of things that make it possible for Douglas to do his job. As SkyLink's Middle East operations director, he is in charge of a linchpin of reconstruction: getting the airports in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul up and running again so that people and goods can move smoothly in and out of the country.

Douglas's company is practiced in bringing flight operations to some of the most difficult places on Earth, including war zones and third-world hot spots. "We get in where other people can't and get things done," says Douglas, whose Scottish brogue has been internationalized by a life on the road. "We don't normally look for glory, but I don't think there's been a humanitarian disaster in the last 15 years in which we haven't been involved."

For Douglas and his rare breed of contractors, there's a certain draw to doing what seems like mission impossible. Walking in his desert boots for a day has the feel, at times, of being dropped onto a set of James Bond meets Baghdad.

Donning dark glasses behind the wheel, he sits on his flak jacket in case he rolls over a land mine or explosive device. Each morning, he varies his route to throw off possible attackers.

Unlike most expatriates working here, he drives his own Land Rover, trusting the defensive techniques he's honed over years of dodging danger more than the skills of the average driver. And he insists that a guest take the back seat: If he has to draw his gun, he doesn't want an unarmed person sitting in his line of fire.


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