The Last Journey

Article #14 “Listen Up”


09 August 2010, Forward Operating Base Boris, Afghanistan


I have ten grandchildren.  There is one that I have my eyes on lately that has my attention.  His name is Jesse.  He is the oldest of the triplets.  He is named after his uncle, my son, Jesse, who was a Marine and went to be with the Lord in 2001.  From what I have gathered from his mom and dad (my son Jimmy), he is the most challenging these days with his brothers.  He apparently gets into trouble often.  I kept my eye on him a lot when I visited the Ft. Hood, TX area in June for his birthday.   What I mean by that is I observed him from afar.  I could tell in just a short period what he was thinking most of the time.  There was a point that I was opening a closing a plastic ice chest and yelling into it and making a game out of it.  The triplets mimicked me doing this.  But Jesse just captured my attention.  He also gets his “Irish up” once in a while more often than the others and I just know how he feels.  I think he just wants someone to listen to him because he has something to say and is frustrated he can’t convey it.  I determined on that visit to listen to my grandson Jesse.  I don’t think the other members of his extended family will be able to hear him as well as I think I can.  For the first time in my life, I think I am good at listening.  My wife however is the only one who really knows the truth on this matter.  She says I don’t listen very often.  I just tell her that “I hear things differently” than most people.


Right now, I am listening to the rain pouring down buckets here at FOB Boris.  It is about 3:00 pm and it’s just been raining cats and dogs for the past hour or so.  This morning I was up early and took a walk high on a place here that overlooked the whole FOB and the area surrounding us.  It was a beautiful morning and the sky was only partly cloudy and I could see for the first time pretty much a 360-degree view of where I live at the moment.  The sun was trying hard to peek out from among the clouds and from time to time the glistening of the hills to the west were shining ever so brightly.  Gray has been the predominant color lately and for the first time since arriving here I was able to catch a brief glimpse of golden and green shimmering in the area.  It was nice and the temperature was quite pleasant.  It looked like parts of the Gila National Forest area in southwestern New Mexico but felt a lot like the climate in Hilo, Hawaii.  This is eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. 


I was talking to a soldier up on the high place and I mentioned to him that Sgt. Doyle will fly today, I could just tell by it.  Later, I had run into Doyle and told him he would fly today.  He told me that all flights were cancelled.  I said to him, “we’ll see.  It’s early yet”.  Later, after lunch, the soldier in charge of moving pax in and out of Boris, came in to the MWR saying, “Chinooks are inbound and taking pax to Salerno”.  Then he left abruptly looking for others waiting to go.  I knew Doyle was in the back area of the MWR tent and did not hear that birds were inbound.  He was about to miss his ride to Salerno and onto his R & R.  I leaped out of my chair at the computer and rushed through the door to where Doyle was and said, “Doyle, your birds are here, get you stuff, get out of here”.  He leaped up, ran to his hooch and got his things.  In the mean time, I went to the flight line and had my camera ready.  One CH47 Chinook was just about to land and there was dust everywhere.  The other was circling over head.  Several soldiers were waiting and soon began to load up on the bird.  Doyle was nowhere around, yet.


I kept asking if Doyle was here and nobody knew.  All the soldiers look alike in their gear and to me, they all looked like Doyle, but I knew he wasn’t there, yet.  Then, just as most everybody was loaded up, here comes a soldier whom I know is Doyle.  I can tell.  It’s him.  So I get out there and snap a few photos of Bryan before he loads up through the back of the bird where ramp is down still.  He turns and gives me a big smile.  I take that shot, shake his hand and watch Sgt. Bryan Doyle embark on the first leg of his heading home for his R&R.


In the past few days I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Bryan.  I learned a lot about him and his goals in life and his young bride and his family and his brother and his GTO car and many, many other things.  I told him many things about me and my life, but mostly, I listened to this warrior.  He educated me on the dynamics of this area I am in.  Much of the time I was listening to him I was fascinated at how much this 25-year-old Sgt has learned about everything.  As he spoke I thought within myself how I would love to take our conversation and clone it and present it to some folks somewhere that would just do what I was doing…listening to a warrior.  I knew it could not happen.  It was meant to just be a live history lesson for me.      


I spent decades in years past speaking with veterans and reading books about wars from times past.  I saw movies and documentaries and photos and news clips forever and ever and was always taken aback by the intricacies of how wars are run.  I’ve met Senators, presidential candidates, Congressional medal of honor winners, pilots, former prisoners of war, and…infantrymen.  There is something about the ground level view of things that dispenses into one the bigger picture of things. Listening, it teaches one a lot.  I think I come to these parts of the world because most of what people tell me back home is not so important.  Here, what people have to say is quite frankly, a bit more important than what Entertainment Tonight or CBS or CNN or NBC or ABC says is important. But those entities really don’t listen to warriors.  I think they are too busy selling advertising.  I’m glad I have nothing to sell.

During the night, I had received an email from a mother whose son is here at FOB Boris.  I have no idea how she found me but, it happens when people find out what I am doing.  She asked if I could find her son.  She described him to me.  I knew right away I would see him in the morning.  Sure enough, I ran into him.  And like Sgt. Doyle, this warrior too is more than good at what he does for a living.  We spent some time talking today.  I spent a lot of time listening.  I got some continuing education from this soldier.  I will spend more time with him and take his photo from time to time of him doing what he does.  One thing about the Army. One soldier leaves and another fills the void.  One Sgt gone, another Sgt picks up the ball.  I’m once again in good hands.


Although this is not my first rodeo, this is however a new territory for me.  I figure it’s like having been a bull rider and drawing the same bull time and time again until one day, you draw a different bull in the same event.  You don’t know what this bull can do but you’ve heard what he did in a rodeo somewhere else before.  Only time will tell and when the shoot opens and that 8-second count begins, and, well then the audience will just have to wait and see what happens.  In that type of event really all what everyone is waiting for is to hear that whistle blow.  That’s what everyone is listening for.  Especially the bull rider. 


I think my grandson Jesse will be a good listener one day.  Right now he apparently doesn’t seem to listen very well.  But I knew a person in his immediate blood line that never seemed to listen to anyone.  But eventually, that became Pop’s job.  Listen up.  Jesse’s trying to tell us something. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey