Local man to run Baghdad Airport

It's become a perilous place for allied troops, But security concerns in Baghdad aren't enough to frighten a local aviation expert, who's about to help rebuild a crippled country.

"When I was selected for this position, it was a dream come true," said R.C. Shackelford.

The Wilmington native, called "Shack" for short, has just been hired as director of Baghdad International Airport, formerly Saddam Airport. It's a risky job he volunteered for.

"My dad used to say, if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much room," he said.

Shackelford began his climb to the top of the aviation business more than 30 years ago at Wilmington International Airport, taking over the top spot in the late 'seventies. He never got to see the fruits of his labors at ILM. In 1987, he left to become the airport director at Raleigh-Durham.

Shackelford finished at RDU last week, and leaves for Baghdad this Thursday. He was hand-picked for the position after expressing interest earlier in the year. Shackelford will be in Baghdad for about 18 months. That's the amount of time he estimates it will take to bring the airport up to international standards.

The sentimental husband and father of two may be checking his bags for the desert, but he's leaving his heart behind.

"This beach and this town are my home and that's what I'll be thinking about. I guarantee you," he said.

It's a warm thought for a man bound for a dangerous land, faced with the challenge of a lifetime.