Highs and Lows

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March 2009     Afghanistan

I have been out on leave for awhile, so no new photos this month.   I don’t have a story yet either, but I have one from a friend who flies C-130s, the same type plane that I snapped awhile ago at a US base, seen above.  It is worth a re-print here.

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All,

I hope this finds everyone well.  I am doing well here.  It has been a busy few weeks.  I wanted to share some of the highs and lows.

Time is a strange, elusive thing here.  We fly around the clock 7 days a week.  There is as much happening here at three in the morning as there is at three in the afternoon.  For that reason, it is often difficult to recall what has happened, or how many days have passed since.  They all run together.

Last Friday (?), we had a beautiful snow.  It was quiet and still at 0200 when I woke.  We live right on the flight-line, andwe become so accustomed to the noise that it is eerie when there is none.  That morning was one of those times.  I stepped outside and we had 6 inches of fresh snow, which gave way to the stillness of a thick ice fog.  The fresh snow, fog and the  absence of activity were serene and peaceful.  Sometimes there is a beauty to this place that you really appreciate in the context of so much bad.

In the days prior we had seen some of the bad.  We fly many different mission profiles.  Earlier in the week, we were tasked with an AE (Aeromedical Evacuation) flight.  We fly our own as well as CF (Coalition Forces) members and LN’s (Local Nationals).  On that flight, we had one LN.  He was 12 years old and we were taking him from our hospital at Bagram back to his home in Kandahar.  Tarnaq Farms was Osama’s compound and is located 2 miles from our airport in Kandahar.  The population there represents one of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda strongholds.  It has been bloody there from the beginning of this war.  This 12 year old was an obvious product of that region.  I looked at this child and he could have been a kid back home playing soccer…or over at my house playing with my boys.  Instead, he was an instrument of death that represents the evil that we oppose here.  He had been trying to place a grenade in the carcass of a dog.  Dead animals are a good place to conceal explosives meant for our forces.  Before he could finish his assignment, the grenade detonated.  He lost both arms above the elbow and one eye.  I was struck (yet again) by the evil that can take that innocence and sacrifice it for their cause.  They are evil.  And, they are determined.

Just days prior we had one of the really good nights, taking some of our nation’s finest home alive.  We flew into a small strip in Jalalabad.  It was nearing midnight and we were uncertain of our load out.  When we arrived we saw pallets and 30 guys at our parking location.  These guys were our very best.  There are many special operators here in Afghanistan.  These were SEALs; they had long, nasty beards and looked native.  The location that we pulled them from is not a quiet neighborhood.  I can only imagine the conditions that they endured over the past several months.  With the load they had, there was really not enough space for them all, but we were not leaving any of them behind.  We piled them into that airplane, on the floor, on pallets and even had some on the flight deck with us.  It is interesting, the very toughest guys are the ones that seem to be the most quiet, peaceful, unassuming people, and these were no exception.   We talked for the hour and a half that we flew.  They shared more with us than I would have expected.  We also talked about the book, “Lone Survivor” – these  guys knew the SEALs in that book.  It was a fascinating glimpse into the dark world that they operate in.  They are very special people, and was a privilege to be in their company.  They were great young Americans serving us all proudly.

That same week, we flew others on the first leg home as well.  Unfortunately, these two died, killed by an IED.  We had a mid-mission change to transport HR’s (Human Remains). It is always impressive to me the effort taken to get our folks home to their families as early as possible. They were transported by helicopter from FOB Salerno to Bagram, then prepared for transport.  We  flew the first leg home, to another airport to catch the first C-17 headed to the States.

Each time we lose guys, we have a Fallen Comrade ceremony.  It does not matter what time of the day it is.  This was 0300.  The road from the Mortuary Affairs building to the flight line was lined with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.  Two Humvees slowly drove through the crowd with the flag draped coffins in the back.  It was another of those rare times when it is still and quiet here.  All engines are stopped for the ceremony.  It was still, quiet and cold.  The salutes of our forces rippled as the Humvees slowly drove by.  Bugles played as the vehicles made it onto the flight-line.  The Honor Guard met the coffins and carried them through two columns of service-members to our airplane.

The music continued and the two columns saluted with their rifles as they passed.  It was one of those terribly sad moments that are at the same time so powerful and beautiful.  It is always impressive to me to watch the honor that we tender our bravest.  The gratitude that is displayed for those that bought our liberty and freedom is so evident in the context of war.  At the conclusion of the ceremony, their Commanding General met with us and said, “These two young men woke up this morning to do their job.  They did not expect to die today.  Take care of my soldiers and get them home to their families.”  I went to sign for their bodies.  They were 19 and 22 years old, serving with the 101st Airborne.  Please pray for their families and thank God we have young men like them.

The kinetic activity (direct offensive operations) has been increasing.  The 10th Mountain Division guys are in-country now,  hitting the enemy hard in some of the tougher provinces.  The F-15E’s and A-10’s are flying continuously to support them from above.  With this increase in kinetic action we will certainly see an increase in casualties (already have).  Please pray for those directly in harm’s way.  They operate in brutal terrain and a harsh climate.

I miss you all.  God bless you, your families and God bless America.

(name withheld)

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