When War Gets Close to Home

9:11 PM

We read about our country's two wars every day, and after so many years, the daily reports seem to blend in like the bland desert scenery of the Middle East. That is, until you get an email from one of your favorite family members that brings it right straight into your life front and center.

My cousin Linda's daughter Laura has been in the United States Army for years, mostly stationed on the East Coast. I unfortunately had lost touch with her until 01.10.09 when I received the following description of her new assignment. It was a nothing-held-back, sort of cryptic note telling of her flight into the belly of the beast, up near enemy lines near Kabul to Forward Operating Base Shank in the Logar province of Eastern Afghanistan....

"...fall asleep. Actually I think I passed out. One of the guys said my face was smashed into my assault pack. He kept staring at me to see if I was breathing. He said he wanted to touch me to see if I was alive, but he couldn't move his arms. The flight was amazing, cold, but amazing. Needless to say, I awoke when we started making evasive moves prior to landing. When we finally landed, it felt so good to get out of that plane, and take off all the gear. We flew with doors open. Oh Yeah!! I was all about cuddling!! Body heat was my saving grace. Others body heat that is.

I had finally arrived at my FOB, my home away from home. We got off the bird, got our stuff off and waited for the next bird to land so we could all go find our new cots. As the next bird came in, it flew directly overhead. That was amazing but I realized their power. Suddenly 80lb duffle bags went flying like they were paper. Then I went flying! Thank God this giant NCO grabbed me and held me down. He literally caught me by my arm and held my shoulders down. It was rather disconcerting."
I immediately looked up FOB Shank and found it was seriously near the tip of the spear as they call it over there. Since then, I've exchanged emails as best I could with Laura (we don't really care that she's technically a second cousin, to me she is family, 'nuf said). Now, each news report from over there seems to have a greater importance, for all the obvious reasons.

But as an aviator, I really took notice the other day when I received yet another looooong email from her, again from deep in the 'Stan at FOB Shank. This one was chilling, and really brought home what she must be going through over there:
"We are getting hit by larger and larger IEDs. I was supposed to fly up there (vicinity of the IEDs) that night. I wasn’t sure if my flight would be canceled or not. I really hoped that it would. But, of course, this is the Army and the mission goes on. My original bird was used to get the soldiers to the hospital, but the CPT that runs the air missions told me we had another bird going to my location that could pick me up and take me. It was landing here and picking up explosives. Picking up what? Explosives. “Oh great. I can still go.” I said with false enthusiasm. While my inside voice was saying, are you f**king kidding me?? I have to fly AT NIGHT, with full illumination (meaning you could see without a flashlight) on a Blackhawk full of explosives!!! Fabulous. I did. I grabbed my gear and off I went. What a creepy surreal flight that was. We flew so close to the mountains, I swear the 50cal hanging out the window was going to hit the mountain side. You could see the outline of the mountains out both sides of the Blackhawk. It really looked like you could reach out and touch them. I figured that as long as I could see the mountains out the side windows and not out the front window… I was good. I was very glad to land that night, crawl into my sleeping bag, say a prayer for the families of the fallen Soldiers, thank God for allowing me this experience, granting me the serenity to do this job and keep my wits, and of course, landing safely, and a warm sleeping bag. These Soldiers, this job, this way of life… never ceases to amaze me. There is no place like home!"
I am not at liberty to say what Laura's duty entails, only to say it's supposed to involve more pencil pushing then rides up dark canyons sitting atop explosives in a Blackhawk. But in my life I have only met a few truly courageous people, and Laura is one of them. She has to be, because anyone would have to be to stay sane in a desert that resembles Mars, a million miles from home, with terrorists lobbing home-grown bombs in your general direction 24/7.

I may not fully understand why we have American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, but while I have family in harm's way, this war will take on new meaning. Because when someone you love steps off the Blackhawk and their boots hit the ground, that's when everything changes.

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