Dispatch From Downrange
Missions change, locations change, but there is still a sense of duty and that is a constant, no matter where it is.
The weather here has been hot and dry. Random dust storms roll through like mini tornadoes but without the damage. At night the wind normally kicks up and by morning anything left unsealed will be full of talcum powder like dust. It is a daily ritual to clean everything. You can come in from a walk and be covered with dirt. If it was a sweaty walk the dirt turns to mud. Clothes, gear, yourself, and the dog all get cleaned daily. My dog Jack likes being vacuumed. It helps cut down on the hair in the room and keeps him clean until he gets a bath.
During the winter things were pretty quiet around the FOB. We would get the occasional report of a contact but for the most part the bad guys concentrated on staying warm. Ankle deep snow and sandals donít mix well I guess. That time of calm has passed. I see the medevac Blackhawks come swooping in to the FST here. (Forward Surgical Team) Sometimes they bring in Afghan soldiers, sometimes ours, sometimes they even bring in the dogs. Yes our canine partners rate medical care just like any other soldier if needed. Normally after they land there is a pretty good delay and then they fly back to their area , normally, but sometimes they are on the ground only moments and then these big black angels of mercy jump back into the air and head off, nose down, rotors straining to get where they have to be without delay. You can almost hear the engines yelling, ďJust hold on. Iím coming.Ē
Something I never get use to is the Fallen Hero ceremonies. These are tough on everyone but unfortunately they are a fact of life in a war zone. Not all days are good ones. Not all days end without contact. And not all contact ends well.
I remember when I was still in the Army the little things we did. The showings of respect and tradition we did out of habit, out of training, out of caring. The one that came to mind today was Retreat. You are supposed to stop and get out of your car at retreat. Retreat is when the flag is lowered on post. All traffic is supposed to stop. All personnel are supposed to get out of their vehicles and render the proper respect to the lowering of the flag. I remember how upset I would get when I saw others still driving during retreat. I would purposely stop my car right in the middle of the road blocking as many lanes as I could. It was important to me. This memory came back to me today. I was not at the Fallen Hero ceremony but I was just adjacent driving to the MP station. The ceremony was coming to an end and it was time for the fallen to depart. This was done in a very appropriate way. In fact I could think of no better tribute. The Blackhawk helicopters were on the pad were running and ready for flight waiting to take the fallen soldier for his last flight from here. As the helos lifted off, they hovered a while and made a slow 360 degree circle in place. One helo also hovered as if standing watch. As they did this, I stopped my vehicle and got out to face the hovering helos. As they left the soldiers saluted. The Blackhawks gained altitude and slowly departed. They launched flares from the helos as they left in a final tribute. Although no longer in the Army, I also stood at attention and saluted along with all the soldiers. When it was over, salutes were slowly lowered in unison as if by some silent command. I followed suit.
As I started to get back in my car some other civilian, I say other civilian because I am one too, came up to me and said that I wasnít supposed to block traffic and that I shouldnít salute as I was not a soldier. The look he got from me at that point seemed to convince him he had said the wrong thing to the wrong person. He pretty much stopped in mid-sentence and got back in his car. He was right about one thing. He picked the wrong person at the wrong time and at the wrong place. I just stared and slowly returned to my vehicle taking a little extra time before I unblocked his path. As I drove away I thought of all the traditions and little things that we did as soldiers to show respect. I remembered how I always held with disdain those that tried to get around those things or didnít think they were important. All those feelings came rushing back when this person showed he was too busy or too selfish to understand how important those things are. Maybe I am not as tolerant as I use to be. Then again, I never was very tolerant where this was concerned. Thinking about it now as I write this Iím actually pretty thankful he just got back in his car. The situation was heading south very quickly and he didnít even know it. Yes, Iím getting less tolerant or maybe now that Iím older and have a son in the Army it means even more now. It is more personal.
Ok, Iím off my soapbox now but there is plenty of room on it. I hope you feel the same as I do about these things. Sometimes you just have to experience them to realize how vitally important they are.
Before I go back to work I wanted to say hello to a few folks back home and especially to one of my youngest readers, Rufus King. My wife Katherine tells me he gets a kick out of my little stories and reads every one. Good for you Rufus and thanks for reading. Also Iím not alone here you know. One of our native sons from Harwood, Bradley Harlow, is stationed here at the same location as I am. I havenít found him yet but I will try to look him up and say hello.
From here in the dust
Iím Jon HarrisAnd this has been another ďDispatch from DownrangeĒ