TEN YEARS LATER
March 3, 2012…Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, Helmand province,
Afghanistan…We had one mission today. It came in the afternoon right
after I told one of the crew chiefs here that it seemed slow and I
mentioned that it was like that the day previous when it all let loose.
Not ten minutes later and the call came for a medevac. This time I was
second to the helicopter but the guy that was first forgot something.
That made me first by default according the medic Sgt. Papp. He smiled
when he told me that. I couldn't believe that I actually beat everyone to
the aircraft. We were tasked to go and retrieve a little girl that got
caught in an IED blast. The back of her leg on the calf was torn up a bit.
We arrived quickly and picked her up and transported her to another
medical facility at a different location.
Ten years ago today, in Afghanistan, Operation Anaconda kicked off. It
is the reason I came on this journey at this time. I remember staying up
late in Hawaii where I was working at a tour helicopter facility with my
wife. We had gone back to Hawaii for two years after losing our son
Jesse in order to begin to heal up. Now our son Jimmy was in war. I
knew that what was going on in Afghanistan and where he was, would
be extremely serious business. He was a door gunner and crew chief at
that time on CH47 helicopters. In the years following, a book called
Robert's Ridge would be written about events that began on the night of
March 3-4, 2002 kicking off what has come to be known as Operation
Anaconda. A fine New Mexico Airman from Carlsbad, named Jason
Cunningham was lost in that event. I know this history well. Although I
was not there in 2002, my son Jimmy was in the area at the time being
baptized by fire.
Today is truly ten years later.
The mission we were on now was to pick up a little girl. She was with
her father who showed no emotion whatsoever. He was dressed in
typical rural Afghan garb. All the men seem to have long unkempt
white-blonde beards. Their skin always looks the same…like dried out
shoe leather. It comes from the harsh sun and the dusty climate here.
Men age quickly here.
The patient was brought into the aircraft and immediately both the
medic, Sgt. Eric Papp, from Woodbury, MN and crew chief, Spc. Armando
Martinez, from Santa Fe, NM, began treating the little girl. I was struck
that during the whole time, the little girl seemed to be on her own as
her father stared emotionless out the window of the helicopter.
Chances are he had never before been in an aircraft during his entire
life. It seemed a bit surreal to me. I wondered if the patient had been a
son if the concern from the father would have been different. Perhaps
it's just the callousness of life among the rural population in these
parts. After all, war has been going on here in Helmand province for
We landed at a location where additional medical attention would be
rendered. She was unloaded from the helicopter and the father was
directed where to follow. We soon departed and headed back to the
FOB. The flight back however would be challenging.
Weather by this time had set in. The wind has kicked up the past day or
so and that makes the dust completely fill the sky. One's sinuses
become clogged with the fine dirt and the constant taste of sand in the
mouth never goes away. Flying in this mess is something that is always
a concern. The two pilots on this flight were Mr. Seay and Mr. Medina.
Both were on top of their game this day, (which is great for me) and in
all honesty the flight back was wonderful. We cruised at a bit slower
speed than usual and maintained an above ground altitude of about
100-feet or so. This afforded me
the opportunity to get a good view
closer up of the farms we fly over
regularly. It was a treat for the kid
inside of me who never tires of
helicopter rides. Sgt. Papp
managed to take a view clips from
his hand held video of me grinning
from ear to ear.
Below there were many times
flocks of sheep and goats were
visible tended by what looked like
teenage boys. For the life of me, I
cannot imagine what these animals are actually eating unless there is
some new breed of sheep and goats that thrive on brown dirt. There is
nothing I can see that these animals were grazing on. Perhaps they just
take them out for run in the country because I never see them eating
Soon, the FOB came into view. Landing at the refuel depot was like
clockwork and shortly thereafter Mr. Seay and Mr. Medina repositioned
the aircraft to its parking spot and readied the bird for the next
mission. That was the last mission of this day. In the evening I
attended an updated CPR class presented by one of the medics who is a
certified trainer for the American Heart Association. I am quite happy I
attended. It had been literally decades since I had taken a CPR class and
things have changed. I also had a clearer understanding of what is
going on in the helicopter as I am snapping photos. I passed the course
and was issued a valid card which is good for two years.
Later at night I stayed up talking at length with some of the medics. I
spent most of my time listening as the flood of life experiences from
these guys gushed out about their time here in the war zone flying dust
off missions. I learned that two of the medics here had joined the New
Mexico National Guard simply so they could be deployed and get in on
serving their country because of the events that happened on
9/11/2001, some ten years ago now. One joined up at age 30, the
other joined up after age 40. Both are Albuquerque firemen who also
happen to be real patriots.
Seems to me, that ten years later, I find myself in better company than I
ever realized was possible.
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