Dispatch From Downrange
The Last Dispatch From Downrange (Coming Home)
Visiting the Navy Cmdr and his crew one last time. Last picture at the k9 facility I ran. Waiting on a flight out of Sharana. On the C-130 between Sharana and Bagram, Afghanstan
Iím sitting here in the passenger trailer of the Diplomatic Flight Service in Bagram Afghanistan waiting on my flight home. This is actually the mid-point in the journey but it is where I feel that I am really leaving. From here we fly to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then to the States. Iíll go to Camp Attebury in Illinois and then, after out processing, I head home to Texas.
I actually have very mixed feelings about leaving here. Not that I donít want to come home, I do, but Iím leaving Jack behind. Jack was my assigned detection dog. He and I have lived together; played together, shared the same room and basically have been inseparable for over a year. This morning before I got on the C-130 cargo plane out of Sharana, the FOB where Iíve been for the last year, Jack and I went to visit the folks that operate the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) up on the hill next to the runway. These things fly at all hours of the day and the mission is vital. Although I donít have the clearance to see what they are doing from the control building, I do hear of the results. Jack and I had befriended the folks there and they would even come to my room to visit Jack from time to time so saying goodbye was a must. When I got there Jack came bounding out of the Toyota 4 Runner I was in and ran over to a Navy Lt. Commander who runs to operation. He too is a dog person. As Jack was getting lots of love and was clearly the center of attention (he always is wherever we go) I let them know I was leaving and this was the last time Jack would be around. They were sad to see us go but clearly understood it was time. From there I went to the flight line and made arrangements to fly out. Not too much of an eventful flight. Everything went as scheduled and in a little while we jumped into the night as the big engines strained to pull the packed plane into the thin air. The runway is at 8200 feet so it is not easy for the flights to get off if the heat is up. Something to do with the air density Iím told.
Landing in Bagram a short while later, I gathered Jack and my stuff and went to find a room at the company compound. Iíd be leaving the next day to make the long flight home. I was instructed to put Jack in a kennel, something I didnít want to do but really had no choice in. I took him to the holding kennels and informed the kennel attendant where he was, what and when he was fed and then signed my friend over to him. He was no longer mine or my responsibility. I went back to the billets and had a very fitful night mainly waiting for the day to come so I could leave. Morning came with a cold wind and a loud snap of an explosion. Yep the insurgents had launched yet another attack on the perimeter. Nothing big, mainly harassment, but it does keep your attention. As far as I was concerned, as long as the runway was not damaged Iíd be leaving on schedule.
As I got ready to go there was one more thing to do. I had to visit Jack one last time. He was in a kennel at the main hub in Bagram where the unassigned dogs are housed. He had not been in a kennel since he was assigned to me and it was hard to see him behind the grate. Not that the kennel is bad. These are actually very nice and roomy. He has a house and a run but still he is separated from me. I slipped my hand through the squares of the kennel and Jack laid his head in it as I scratched him behind the ears. I didnít say anything, just petted and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back the tears. I had actually inquired about purchasing him from the company and bringing him home. That was out of the question unfortunately. Jack was a victim of his own success. He and I had become the top drug detection team in Afghanistan. Jack is only three and a half years old so he has a long time left until retirement. He is a company asset and a valuable one at that. Basically, not for sale.
That is the hard part. That is the part that is so conflicted but it is something I always knew would eventually happen. I had steeled myself for it but really was unable to insulate myself from the deep loss I felt. As I think about it now it is sort of funny. I donít really miss the people Iíve been with. Iíve worked with some of them even longer than Iíve been with Jack but it is different. Jack was, is, special. He was my companion through all the good and bad times here. He will be so greatly missed and he will always have a special place with me.
Originally I was going to be in Afghanistan until December 2014. As things happen, situations change and it became very clear that I was needed at home. Now my wife Katherine certainly wanted me home but she has always supported me in the sometimes rocky paths Iíve chosen. Through the military, law enforcement, self-employment, and even through this adventure in Afghanistan, she has always supported me. I cannot say enough about those wives and family that stand by and support their partners through those hard times. We have been together for thirty years. Through military deployments, through missions that she could not be told about and which she had no idea when Iíd be back, through sleepless nights when she could listen to the police radio and know I was involved in something, through it all she has been steadfast and supporting. Well it is time now. Itís time I stayed home. I informed the company of my resignation and preparations for my return were started. The company I worked for was very kind to me and made arrangement to get me home quickly. Although I had given the required thirty day notice, here I am, five days later and ready for the flight. They were also clear that if I ever wanted to return, there was a position waiting for me. Jack and I had made a name for ourselves in the company and that paid off. Itís nice to be wanted.
In my life Iíve done all those things that little boys think about. I was a soldier (probably always will be), I was a businessman, an author, a police officer, and Iíve been a military contractor. Not long ago there was a different name given to military contractors but that is not so much in vogue now, still, it is the same thing. Iím a father of a wonderful son who is an officer in the US Army, a husband to a wonderful wife and I live in the greatest place in the world, Texas. What could be left? What do I do now? Iím not ready to retire. I have way too much to do yet. Funny thing is, after all these years, I just canít stay out of uniform. The question of what now has already been answered. I will continue to serve be it a lot closer to home. I will be serving as a police officer with the Gonzales Police Department after a short break at home. I am looking forward to this next step and once again the central theme that has contributed so much to my happiness will once again be continued. I will be back in uniform and in the mix of things. Eventually, if the planets align, Iíll return to the K-9 side of law enforcement. Yes once again a dog will be my partner. K-9 Buddy, my drug dog I left at home when I went to Afghanistan, will once again be my continual companion if all works out as planned. I canít wait.
They just announced it is about time to board the plane so I need to close this last article. As I gather my stuff to get on the bus that takes us to the plane, we wait as the bus passengers disembark. They look just like us waiting to leave. Mainly in green and khaki clothes, tactical eye wear and ball caps. Each carries a tactical looking backpack or a rucksack on their back. Yes they look just like us except maybe not quite as weathered. They are us, they are the new guys. This strikes me as clearly a changing of the guard and it will happen again and again. For me this adventure is over. All of us waiting for our seat on the bus are going home. We have been lucky. As I walk to the bus I nod at those walking off. We all understand. They are stepping into a world of hardship and sometimes danger. They are walking into a world of boredom as well as panic. I hope they are all in my place eventually, coming home. We also know that some of them may not. It is a fact of where we are, where I was, where they are going. It is a simple fact of war that we all accept knowingly; always hoping it will not happen to us.
Iím Jon Harris
and this has been
THE LAST DISPATCH FROM DOWNRANGE
|When I uploaded this page to the site is was some time, years actually, after I had left Afghanistan and my partner Jack. I still get teary eyed thinking about him. I tried to adopt him after I returned to the states but to no avail. I miss him terribly.|