The Last Journey

Article #7 “Old Friends”


31 July 2010, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, 2030 hrs, Saturday evening…One of my favorite songs of all times is by three artists that I really enjoyed listening to over the years.  Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Roger Miller.  Some years ago, before Roger Miller passed away, he and Willie and Ray recorded a song called, “Old Friends”.  My son Jesse used to love that song.  Every time I hear it, good memories are rekindled in my being.  I can still hear the song playing in my head.  Today, I had a wonderful experience and it was somewhat of a miracle at that.  In 2007, in the month of September, I spent a short bit of time in a place called Forward Operating Base, Falcon, down towards the Diyala province area during the surge in Iraq.  I embedded with 1/40 Cav from Fort Richardson, Alaska at the time and eventually hooked up with a soldier, who at that time was a young Lt. 


His name is Rob Hamilton. 


I went on patrol with him and his men and spent many hours just talking to him and getting to know a little about him.  In short, this man is quite brilliant and I have never forgotten about him.  He made sure that as many people as possible would read my stories and look at my photos.  Flash forward to 2010, a couple months back, and I had some email correspondence with Rob, who is now Capt. Hamilton.  He is stationed here at Bagram for the moment and he wrote some letters of recommendation for me introducing me to some PAO folks via email.  What he did was basically open the doors for me and point me in the right direction.  Over time I received emails from members of his family and to this day, I am in contact with his mother via email as she follows my current journey. 


Today, after sleeping the better part of the afternoon in preparation for my night journey, I decided to go over to the chow hall and grab just a small bite to eat.  Right before I entered the doors to the chow hall I looked up and saw a Captain coming my direction.  He did not see me, but I saw his name.  HAMILTON, it said.  I placed myself right smack in front of him and said, “Capt. Hamilton?”.  And this startled voice replied, “yes!”.  Now, he was not expecting to see me and if a strange looking civilian with a beard and kind of shaggy hair stops a Capt and stands right in front of him, well, that is usually enough to get quite a reaction at least the look on someone’s face.  I immediately said, “Rob Hamilton?”  And the Capt said, “yes”.  I said, “Jim Spiri here”. 


Now begins a round of handshakes and brief conversation.  He was just finishing eating and I was going inside.  To put it bluntly, there seems to be a billion people on this crowded base and of all the people I could run into, Rob would be who I wanted to see first.  I had planned all along to track him down at some point in time because I promised his mother I would get his photo.  We coordinated to meet at a specific time, about 90-minutes later, and I agreed to be there and asked if I could take his photo.  He smiled and said, “sure”.  He knew I had to do this for his mother.  After dinner, I went to the internet place and sent a few emails, then went to my quarters and retrieved my camera and proceeded to go to the designated location where Rob and I would meet.  As fate would have it, it is about 100-yards from where I’ve been staying the past 24-hours. 


The time came and both of us were right on time.  We shook hands, I took three photos and we began to talk about being here.  Rob is a brilliant young Captain.  The Army knows what they have in this young man.  He is involved with tracking down IED’s and all that goes with that here in Afghanistan.  That basically is a monumental task and it is extremely critical to the success of the mission here in Afghanistan.  I am not surprised that the Army has Capt Hamilton involved in this issue.  It takes a serious person and a smart person to weave through all the obstacles of how the bad guys are causing us severe damage. 


We talked a little about the whole McChrystal incident with the Rolling Stone reporter and we both laughed that I couldn’t have picked a more difficult time to be a “news media” person right now in Afghanistan.  I laughed and explained that I kind of lay low lately and let people think I’m some kind of hidden person who looks like he belongs here.  Capt Hamilton knows a lot about how things work.  I told him that in the years to come I fully expect to see four stars on his collar.  He smiled and said he wasn’t sure the political side of things wouldn’t get the best of him before that time came.  I told him he is exactly what the country needs in a position of authority in the years ahead. 


We continued our conversation and drew comparisons between Afghanistan and Iraq and how things operate.  Rob has been here for only four weeks so he’s just now getting the feel of the place.  He told me on a serious note to be careful and I explained to him that this journey has me very sober-minded.  We both agreed that right now is for sure the make or break time for America’s involvement in Afghanistan.  I mentioned that I hoped the amount of troops authorized currently will be sufficient numbers to pull off a victory here.  That obviously is the million dollar question on everyone’s mind all the way up the chain.  In my view, I feel it is one of the main issues that McChrystal was quite upset about.  Perhaps it is what caused his resignation.  Only he knows.


Rob and I continued to talk about things regarding our personal lives and I learned he now is married to his long time love, Heidi, whom he spoke quite highly of last time I knew him in Iraq.  I told him I hope he has a lot of children in the years ahead and he smiled.  Rob is about 27-years-old, having been born in 1983.  He looks great these days and has really matured into what I think is the Army’s best Captain.  Running into Rob, really brightened my day today.  I immediately emailed his mother and caught her on line.  She was really excited that I ran into her son, and she told me to chastise him for not staying in touch more often, as all Mom’s complain about.  I mentioned this to Rob, after we discussed solving the war in Afghanistan and all the problems that come with it.  But, taking care of Mom is really a tough job, as he smiled and said, “yes, I’ll call her”. 


It is moments like this that I know I am here for a reason.  I love to stand in the gap between deployed soldier and family back home.  It’s like I’m reaching hands across the world and connecting them to one another.  In the middle of it all, I am the most blessed, for I get to receive the joy between the family members when the connections are made. 


Captain Robert Hamilton is a friend of mine.  Although I’ve actually only been around him a very short time, we are surely, “Old Friends” now.  I can hear Roger Miller singing his part and I can see my son Jesse singing along from the cloud of witnesses above. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey