Dispatch From Downrange

Last Story before leaving (sort of)

Helo hoist exfil training.   Doggles for my partner's eyes, Mutt muffs for his ears, harness for the safe lift and a muzzle for everyone else ( just in case).


It is a busy time here in Afghanistan for me and Jack.   I had informed the command group here that I would be returning Stateside for R&R in a few days and as things would have it they decided to make sure and launch whatever searches they had planned before I was to leave.  Jack and I have gained a reputation on the FOB for finding drugs.  Personally I think my law enforcement background, my age and experience Iíve had both as a police officer as well as a senior noncommissioned officer in the Army, helps me greatly.  I bring a much different perspective to the job over a 20 something year old with little operational time.  The command group here appreciates this and many times I am surprised when I am asked to look at their search operations and give my thoughts. That type of respect and treatment is extremely validating.

Recently I was involved in a rather large operation involving a search.  There had been a rather intense investigation going on and when the decision was made to go forward, Jack and I were to become a key part. The operation went off without a hitch.  Several people were detained and Jack and I did what we do.  It was a successful operation.

I know Iím being particularly vague about the operation.  I would normally go into a lot more detail, careful to not violate OPSEC but this time I canít really say anymore.  Clearance from the Military to write about it has not been granted.  I am told with the controversy about the SEAL book ďNo Easy DayĒ coming out and the concerns about classified info being released, although the operation I was involved in was in no way classified, the general feeling of the command is to not grant permission to release the info at this time.  Basically the PAO (Public Affairs Officers) are nervous about everything right now.

So letís talk about something else.  Jack and I will be going through some advanced training when I return.  This is something I have been able to setup with the Medevac and the Special Ops guys here.  We will be assisting in their training as well as gaining valuable training on emergency extractions. We will be doing helicopter extractions. Jack and I will be participating in hoist rescues and extractions. Basically the helicopters will come in and a medic will be lowered by cable down to us while the helicopter hovers.  Iíll prepare Jack by checking his rescue harness and securing a muzzle over his mouth.  Now I donít THINK Jack would bite me or the medic but this will be pretty stressful for him and the muzzle is an operational requirement.  Again, this training is as much for the medic as it is for me and Jack.  The military trains as they fight so we will make this as real as we can and make sure we all go through the procedures.  By repeatedly doing all the small parts during training, when the proverbial fecal matter contacts the spinning fan blades, that training will make the actions automatic when they are really really needed.

After the medic safely sets down, he will assess us (the patients), and get us ready for the lift.  Jack has a special harness that allows him to be hoisted and this will be secured to the lifting cable.  I will also be attached via a rescue sling and all three of us, the medic, me and Jack will be hoisted up and into the hovering helicopter.  The crew chief on the helo will pull us in and off we go.  This is needed training.  This is important training.  If we ever are put in a situation where we have to exfil (thatís what we use instead of ďexfiltrationĒ) via hoist, I donít want to have to learn how to do this as things are happening all around me.  If this actually has to be done, something has most likely gone terribly wrong.  The last thing anyone needs is panic and confusion right then.  Training is the solution to prevent those things from happening.  As I mentioned, this is also training for the helicopter crew and medic.  If a dog and or handler are hurt, we rate medevac just like any other soldier.  The medic needs experience handling the dog. The handler needs to know what to do and how to help keep his partner safe.  Practice and more practice is the answer.  This is going to be exciting and actually I think a lot of fun.

Does the situation actually happen here?  Yes it does.  The helicopter crew I will be working with has medevacíd three military working dogs (MWD) in the last several months.  The dogs needed them real bad and to their credit, the medics were there.  One MWD working with a Special Forces team was shot multiple times several months ago.  That dog was in real bad shape and the medics on the helicopter came swooping in.  They stabilized and hurriedly transported the wounded dog to the hospital here. The surgeon worked on that dog for hours. The dog, now with three legs, survived and was retired to live back in the States with the handlerís family. On another note, the day ended very badly for the shooter of that dog.

By the time this story is published, Iíll be on a flight home.  The travel is a little convoluted but it really doesnít matter. First it will be a C-130 from the FOB where I am stationed to Bagram. These are normally dark flights. Everything is done in the dark. When the big C-130 comes in it will be pitch black, no lights at all.  You donít even really see the plane as it comes in, you just hear it. We load, it taxis, and we take off. Everything is dark both inside and outside the plane. The crew work and fly using night vision goggles.  Iíll arrive in Bagram around 03:00. The next leg will be a privately contracted flight to Kandahar and then to Dubai. After a 17 hour layover in Dubai (in the airport I might add) Iíll catch a commercial flight to Washington D.C.  A short layover there and I will get on the last plane to Austin. All in all it takes almost three days. The travel is exhausting but I am so looking forward to seeing my friends and family, including Buddy, my K-9 at home and any trip headed out of Afghanistan is welcomed.

I am sure the time at home will travel way too fast. It will be gone before I know it and the trip will be taken in reverse back into Afghanistan and to my four legged friend Jack who will be waiting.  I sure he will be relaxing on the bed since I wonít be there to kick him off.

Just waiting for the first thing smoking out of here,

Iím Jon Harris and this has been a

Dispatch from Downrange