TEN YEARS LATER
#7 Kids My Own Age
March 1, 2012…Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, Helmand province,
Afghanistan…It is Thursday, March 1. The sun was shining all day and
it was actually warm. Spring is for sure on its way and it will be short.
Summer will arrive with a vengeance bringing unbearably hot weather.
For now though, it was comfortable. But, today was busy and sad.
When I was young, I always seemed to hang around folks that were my
older half-brother's age. He was five years older than me. I can
remember being told on more than one occasion by an angry sibling,
"Jim, hang out with kids your own age. Leave me and my friends
alone". Well, that worked up until the time my half-brother left home
and I was free to mingle with whomever I chose. I chose at that time
to befriend those folks that were returning from the war in Viet Nam. It
was 1968. I learned much from them. My half brother never went.
But his friends did. And when it was time for them to talk, I was there
to listen to his friends that "were not my age". This is part of the
reason I ended up coming to war zones. I just didn't want to hang with
people my own age.
In my previous embeds, most of the people I stayed among were 30-
years-old and younger. All were younger than my youngest child. But
here in "Edi", there are lots that are closer to my own age. I am now
the oldest one here. But some of the ones I'm mingling with are just
about my age. The mission here at hand seems to require some
particular skill sets that only experience can attain. It is also here that
the older ones feel a compelling sense of duty that drives them here to
serve. It is here that I have found many a kindred spirit among "kids
my own age".
Things have been slow lately. That is a good thing. Today there were
some missions. It is not always combat that kills. But working in a
combat zone brings all kinds of hazards. I've spent enough time in
these places over the past decade that I've seen a few serious accidents
that also claim lives while working in the war zone. No matter what the
case, losing a loved one serving their country in a land far away from
home is painful. It is a pain that never goes away. I am familiar with
this kind of loss and to write about it now is challenging to say the
least. But today, that was one of the missions. To try and save the life
of a Marine that had been electrocuted.
The call came early in the afternoon. The morning had been uneventful
and slow. All things were calm and had been for the past day or so. It
seemed as the war had stopped. The Alpha mission was on and in short
order I was in my assigned seat in the lead medevac as the blades
began turning, picking up speed as the helicopter was getting ready to
depart the FOB. Word had already been relayed that a Marine had been
electrocuted and CPR was being administered as we were in transit. The
flight to the POI (point of injury) was brief. All along the way, flight
medic Sgt Clifford Aughe prepared his equipment. Crew chief Sgt 1st
Class, Jesus Maestas remained in total coordination with the flight
medic. The two were on top of their game, as every crew is every day
of this deployment.
The Blackhawk landed and several Marines carried the litter bearing
another Marine who was not moving. Doors were shut and immediately
the crew went to work administering aid to the patient. The helicopter
took off and bee-lined back to the FOB as fast as it could go. All the
while I watched as the professionals did their skills trying desperately
to revive the patient. I prayed and took photos.
We landed at the FOB and medical personnel met us as the doors to the
helicopter were opened. One of the flight medics jumped in and
straddled the patient over the litter and took over the CPR duties from
the crew chief and the flight medic. The patient was taken into the
medical facility where all efforts to revive him were administered. I
never saw the patient again. Later, we heard he passed. He was in his
During the mission I observed a skill that was exercised with precision
and speed. The medic is nearly 50-years old. I've come to speak often
with him. Never before had I seen such a skill in action. Afterwards,
the entire team of medics came to the aircraft and immediately
prepared the medevac helicopter for the next mission, whenever that
would be. Everything is done rapidly, and in order. This is the one
place that all things must be ready and prepared for the next mission is
always going to happen…it's just a matter of time. And that time could
be in one minute, one hour or one day. But, it will come.
And it did come.
"Medevac..medevac…medevac"….came over the radio. Sure enough, we
all headed to the birds again only this time, it was something with
multiple patients. We were told that five ANA had been involved in an
IED explosions and there were multiple amputations. I was asked to
get in the second aircraft this time for there would be too many
patients on the first aircraft. I went over to the next aircraft. Then,
word came down that this particular mission would go to a British
medevac unit that has a larger helicopter and medical personnel
capable of handling all five patients at once. Now, the mission that was
a go was now a no-go for us. It just happens that way at times.
Decisions are made and others take over. There will be another time.
And, sure enough, another time came in short order.
"Medevac…medevac…medevac" came the call again. I got my gear and
made my way to the lead medevac helicopter in time to buckle in and
sit back and watch as the professionals did their thing.
This time I would be in the back with medic, Sgt Zachary Menzie who is
an Albuquerque Fireman in the civilian world and crew chief Sgt 1st
Class Felicia Espinosa, from Tucson, Arizona. A local national had been
hit by an Afghan National Army truck and the patient was in bad shape.
The helicopter spooled up, and once again we were airborne heading to
pick up another patient. Upon arrival the patient was brought directly
to the helicopter and once again I observed the crew doing their jobs.
It was again rapid and orderly as the helicopter makes its way to
another medical facility where the patient will be cared for with the
best care possible made available to him.
Watching my fellow New Mexican and his fellow soldier from Arizona
All photo’s and Website © 2012 JimSpiri.com, All Rights Reserved
do their jobs was what I came here to do. And now I convey it to the audience. The crew chief is all of 4-feet, 11-inches, but,
her small stature is a plus in the helicopter. She moves with much grace and speed as she assists Sgt Menzie in all he asks for.
Once again the pair in the back of the helicopter is congruent with the previous pair I observed. It's a good vantage point that I
have as I continue to take photos. All along I am thinking inside, "why did I not purchase a wide angle lens like I needed?" It's
always the same reason. Too damn frugal. So, I make do with what I have. It will work.
We come back to the FOB and re-fuel, restock and get ready for the next mission…whenever it that will be. But it will be.
Looking back on the day's events I think of the family who will have been notified by now about their loss. The pain is only just
beginning for them. While we were on the final mission of the daylight, the remains of the fallen Marine were flown off the FOB
by USMC aviators. I was told the honor guard ceremony had at least 200-Soldiers and Marines at full attention as the casket was
carried to the awaiting Huey helicopter for transport to a larger location to begin the final journey home.
There will be more missions, this I am sure of. I will stay prepared. One soldier here told me this statement: "Bad things
happen here. If they're going to happen, may as well be on my shift so I can try my best to turn a bad day into something
good". The person who told me this is nearly my age. I seem to be hangin' with kids my own age now, no matter how young or
old they may be. Here no one tells me to go away. They always say, "Come on with us".