reflections

Afghanistan Post Mortem: Fallen Soldier Ceremony

One late evening, my phone rang in the middle of the night. I answered it, expecting some emergency or another. It was the Operations Sergeant Major. A soldier in the command had been killed and he was being flown from our airfield to another, en route home. I needed to get the platoon together, he said, for a fallen soldier ceremony.

My commander had just flown in a few hours earlier, and when the platoon sergeant started rounding everyone up for a very strange midnight formation, they all figured it was the CO, pissed about something he had observed.

Once everyone was together, we briefed them on what we knew (very little) and moved to the flight line.

In other years, it wouldn’t have been much of a problem to rally the hundred or so soldiers it takes to form an unbroken chain of troops to create a corridor between the aircraft and the hospital. But in 2014, it took a lot of phone calls and maybe even some personal favors.

We all stood there in the dark on the asphalt, not really knowing what was going on. Nearby crew chiefs conducted final preparations for the flight. It was dark, quiet, humid, and groggy.

Eventually, we all started forming the corridor in an orderly, military fashion, without ever having anyone tell us what to do. It all kind of just happened.

Time passed, and the door of the non-descript building that served as the mortuary affairs office opened up. Large men carried the flag-draped casket inbetween the two ranks of soldiers forming the hundred meter or so corridor to the waiting Blackhawk.

Someone called us to present arms, and we did.

reflections

10 Things My NCOs Told Me That I Can’t Forget

Over the years, NCOs (non-commissioned officers) have uttered little sayings or missives that have been forever etched in my mind. Whether they are true or not is not clear. Either way, I cannot forget these little sayings, and as far as I am concerned, they are the absolute truth, simply because a good NCO told me it was so:

1. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink alcohol.

What makes him so special?

2. Every day of PT that is missed requires two days to make up.

It’s not science, but he was wearing a Drill Sergeant hat.

3. A stretch is ineffective unless it is held for at least 15 seconds.

Because 10 seconds is too easy.

4. You really don’t want a CIB.*

There’s a lot of baggage that comes with it.

5. Never, ever, mention rain in the field.

If you do, it will inevitably rain.

6. Nothing good ever happens after someone says “watch this shit…”

But it is probably funny.

7. You can always squeeze in one more.

One more rep, one more person in the truck, etc.

8. If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid.

Unless it is stupid.

9. Fake it until you make it.

False motivation is better than no motivation.

10. If it smells clean, it is clean.

Pine-Sol the shit out of the latrine!

There are likely many more that I just can’t remember right now. If you’ve got some gems, please leave them in the comments.

reflections

Remnants of an Army

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I walk down the steps and outside, limping from the pins and needles in my legs from sitting too long. The cold air wraps around me and I look up, squinting, catching the dark, looming mountains of the Pashtun border behind a strand of concertina wire along the wall of the cantonment . Turning a corner to head back to my room, the white blimp sits in the air where it always does; black from its own shadow. A low-tech drone buzzes nearby like a lawn mower.