The Last Journey
August 29, 2010 COP Turbett, Afghanistan
Fox Company, 2/6 Marines
was Sunday, again, in
I was young growing up in
August 22 to August 28, I was delayed at Camp Dwyer awaiting flights via
helicopter to forward operating base Marjah which from there I would eventually
be taken to a combat outpost which at that time was yet to be determined to link up with
F/Co, 2/6 Marines where locating Jimmy Bernard and Sam Dillon was my goal. While being stuck at Dwyer, I managed to
spend two separate days with the Dust Off crews of the helicopter medevacs in
hopes of getting on a mission and take some photos of them doing what they do. Dust Off crews are always good folks to hang
out with and these ones were no exception.
They were great and full of good cheer and welcomed me to their abode
and extended to me two days of really great conversation. During that time I became quite refreshed on
their procedures and spent a great deal of time chatting with them about their
work and comparing it to previous deployments in
On the 27th of August, at sometime in the late afternoon, a mission came through to pick up a Marine who had been injured with a bad back but was not a severe priority. Arrangements were made and a decision was reached to go ahead and pick him up. I was invited to tag along and immediately jumped at the opportunity to take a ride and snap a few photos. We loaded up and I was given a seat and in no time we were airborne heading to “parts unknown” as far as I knew. Basically, we were headed to the general vicinity of Marjah, which was right where I would hope to eventually end up.
As we flew over the terrain I peered out the window and saw a barren landscape which explained to me why the dust storms had recently put a damper on my schedule. After about a half an hour or so, some greenery began to appear and life in a desert region seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I was now over the area of Helmund province that previously I had only read about. I was getting close to my destination.
In short order, the Blackhawk helicopter I was in began descending and weaving left and right preparing for an approach to somewhere quite soon. I knew we would be landing fast and picking up our patient. Right away, in no time flat we were on the deck and the medic and crew chief opened the doors and assisted the patient onto the aircraft. I extended my hand to him as he took a seat next to me and it was obvious he was in some deep pain as the grimace on his face tried to conceal the obvious. He thanked me and introduced himself to me and the medic and crew chief secured the doors and we prepared for lift off. Before we took off, I asked the Marine next to me what unit he was from. He told me, Fox Company, 2/6. I said, “really!”, in amazement. I then asked him as we began to lift off the ground if he knew Sgt. Jimmy Bernard and the Marine readily told me, “yes, he’s right over there”, pointing to the compound that was now becoming increasingly smaller in view as we gained altitude. I was completely startled.
I then asked the Marine if he knew another Marine named Sam Dillon and he told me, “yes, he too is right over there”, as we now were far away from the compound we had just landed at. I had just landed at the place I had been trying to get to since the beginning of this journey. Inside I could only think, “what if I had my gear with me, couldn’t I have just hopped off and been on my way?”. Well, had this been about six years earlier, the answer would have been sure, not a problem. But nowadays, things are done differently for specific reasons. I would have to go back to Dwyer, wait for the system to catch up to my discovery and just be ever so patient. But I had found where I needed to go. I for sure felt like Gene Cernan and Thomas Stafford on Apollo 10, doing a trial run for my final destination. Things were really taking shape now.
We dropped off the patient at the CSH, and then repositioned the aircraft to the flight line. The mission was over and I was quite happy to have viewed from above my final destination before I actually get there. I thanked the crew, told them what had just transpired and we took a group photo in front of the helicopter. The pilot, W3 Mr. Hamilton pointed out to me the nose of the helicopter where the painted red cross is on white background and showed me the signature of country western singer Toby Keith. I thought that was pretty cool and so did they. It had been a good mission and the dust off family was really a fun group of folks to be with.
I caught a ride back to my quarters and headed to evening chow where I ran into my Lt. who was handling my arrangements. We had good talk and I told him what was up with my days events. We had good smile or two about it and I told him that I know now exactly where I’m headed. I finished chow and went back to my quarters. The internet was shut down so I could not catch up on messages. I gathered my things together, got organized up for the evening and prepared my cot for a good night’s rest. The next day would be the 28th. It was possible I would be able to move towards my destination either by air or ground soon. The morning would be full of new information.
rose early on the morning of the 28th. I figured that if I don’t hear
anything, I would once again go over to the dust off pad and hang out for the
better part of the day. After morning
chow and a cup of coffee, I was greeted by LCpl Crilly who told me that I would
be flying to
left Dwyer via C-130 aircraft which was full.
I was able to have my two bags palletized which meant I would not have
to heave my bags all across the flight line.
That was a great help. I hate
carrying so much crap and have decided never again to carry this much stuff,
ever again. We landed at
went to evening chow, sent a few emails, made a phone call home and explained
that I would probably be out of comms for the next bit of time and not to
expect to hear from me. Throughout the
majority of the rest of the evening, I conversed with a person in the room
adjacent to me who was an exceptionally good photographer from
Sometime after , I was picked up by two Navy reservists who were on duty and tasked with getting me to the rotor wing facility in plenty of time for what is called, “showtime”. That basically is a couple hours before a kind of flight time. Nothing is ever “scheduled” per se in the war zone primarily due to OPSEC considerations, among other things. Other factors are just components of logistical hurdles to overcome. Now, I have had a real good relationship with all the USMC and Army public affairs folks ever since arranging this journey as well as previous journeys. However, now I was in the hands of two Navy reservists who work for another Lt in the Navy who also is a reservist and I had for the first time begun to experience a “not so pleasant” moment(s). I also noticed that the two Navy reservists whose last names are MC1 Cartwright and MC2 Howlett, were a bit on the out of shape side, did not really want to be having to take me to the other side of the base in the middle of the night. Although their shift was indeed the graveyard shift, apparently they had better things to do, as they explained to me, like eating chow and sleeping. I began to inquire about what happens if my flight gets cancelled. After what seemed like pulling teeth for an answer, I inquired as to why I have to seemingly play 20-questions for information. They both sarcastically mentioned to me that I was “media” and that they were not in the business to volunteer any helpful information to me. I was rather appalled and began to explain to them exactly who I was and a bit of my history. At that point one of them, with the other ones’ prodding, made a rather derogatory comment to me concerning the loss of my son Jesse, a Marine. At that very point, I decided to not say another word, for fear of what I might say and do which would probably land me a rapid free ticket home. I kept my mouth shut the rest of drive and once they arrived at the rotary wing terminal, I got out, got situated and bid them farewell. As they were leaving I shook their hands, told them thank you and inquired as to their names one more time. Now, they knew I would not forget. Down the line somewhere in the future, they would be made to remember how they treated me. Chain of command is useful.
During the night as I waited for the helicopter, I struck up some conversations with Marines. As always, it was good conversation. The closer I got to arriving to Marjah, the deeper my sense became that where I was going would be more than important. We all waited in the night for the CH53’s to show to take quite a few of us to Marjah. I was the only civilian. As the two birds pulled into position, one was loaded with pallets full of supplies and the other with passengers. I had not ever had a ride in this type of helicopter. It would be a good ride. I liked the roominess in the bird and I had the seat closest to the cockpit. I was all eyes watching as the small in stature Marine in the left seat operated the controls for the largest singer rotor helicopter in the American arsenal.
Before sun up, I arrived in FOB Marjah. It is a small place, and very, very dusty. We were all processed, I was given a cot in a tent and I was able to catch couple hours sleep. I was not in the hands of the USMC. I had arrived at Marjah. Now, all I needed to do was to get to Fox Company, which I now knew was not very far away at a nearby combat outpost. I slept well for short while.
the morning I rose and found the place to do my business so to speak. Gone are now the luxury porta-potties that
grabbing a cup of coffee in the make shift chow hall I heard a Lt mention
something about some vehicles pushing out to Fox company, which is at COP
Turbett. Bingo. That’s my ticket. I inquired and was introduced to the folks
that could assist me. I was hooked up
with my POC, Lt. Holmes and he offered me a very good cup of coffee he had
brewing in his small office. He was a
pleasant site to see, things were getting done and I was now on the manifest
for Fox Company. I attended the convoy
briefing, was introduced to my escorts and in short order was loading up on a
big MWRAP and heading out the gate towards my final destination. It would be about a forty minute trek down
what looked like ditch bank roads back home, only the layer of dust was at
least four inches deep. Everything is
dusty. Next stop, COP Turbett. This was the end of the morning of