Sunday, June 24, 2007

A trip I'll never forget...

So basically this all revolves around the past 2 days in which I was finishing my preparations for, attending, and returning from my NCO of the Quarter board. An experience that will live with me forever...

So a couple of days ago, I was doing some of the last bit of my studying and was trying to get as much information on the actual board that I could, when I discovered that the location of the board was not even going to take place at the base that I was out. Wow, what a suprise, and no one had a clue. Thank God the board got pushed back another day so we had time to try and figure all of this out.

The day before my board, was supposed to be spent studying all day. I had a good bit of the information down, but there still were a few things that I had just recieved and needed to study on. Well, it didn't go quite as I planned. First off we ended up having a layout for our platoon where basically we lay all of our platoon issued gear out, and they go through and check everything and sign off and all that fun officer stuff they do. Anyways, by the time that was all done, the day was half over. Then came the next suprise. I was to be convoying out that night to go to the other base that the board was out. So now, I needed to spend part of this time packing and getting ready for that. Well, at least I'll have all night to be able to study.

They ended up not being able to come up with room for my squad leader to go with me and to sit in on the board with me, which had me a little nervous at first. I thought I was going to have to do it alone. But they guy they ended up getting to sit in to replace my squad leader was a guy that I went through Jumpmaster school with and we became friends while we were there, so it definatly was cool to have him fill in. He was a little worried thinking they were going to ask him questions about how well he knew me, but I reassured him that they were there to judge me, not him.

Well that evening we were getting ready to head out. I wasn't rolling with my unit; we were with another one from our base. They're route was to go down this one road that we don't travel because of all the IEDs that go off on there. Oh great... I can't wait. Thankfully the trip was uneventful, until the very end, when we pulled off towards the base we were going to. Right as we did, we heard and explosion that was several hundread meters up the road we were just on. I remeber thinking thank god we got off when we did. Once on the base, we got our room, and ended up finding out that the explosion we heard, had hit an american covoy. We would later learn, that one US soldier was killed.

That night, I was dedicating to just studying and cleaning my weapon (which I just learned from my Batt. Sergeant Major that they might inspect it). This was going to be a long night. I headed to the coffee place they had on this base and picked up a Cafe Moca on ice, with 2 shots of expresso. An hour or so later, I was back getting the same thing, this time with 4 shots of expresso!! Needless to say I got all the studying done that I wanted to, and was able to make my weapon look brand new. Well at least I thought brand new until I saw the weapons of some of the non-infantry guys attending the board the next day.

I ended up crashing out around 0230 or 0300. We had to be up at 0615 to eat, get ready and head out for the board around 0830. I decided that I didn't want breakfast, so I wouldn't get all tired and I could just use the time to recap on studying. I brought 2 RedBulls with me and I opened one and drank it while I smoked and studied. I was starting to feel pretty good about the board at this point. The rolls around and we end up heading up there to the conference room to do the board.

As usual they bring everyone in, talk a little about the members, what its going to be like and whatnot, and then they usually begin. Every other board I've done they always do the NCOs first and then do the Soldiers next. This time, it was to be reversed, and being a 'W'atson, I was to be the last of the last. Fantastic. I love sitting around, bored, with nothing to do. Just how I wanted to spend my day. Hahaha. One interesting note, was that there were 7 of us NCO's competeing. Everyone except for me was an E-5 (Sergeant) Promotable, which means they were comming up on getting their E-6 (Staff Sergeant). I was a lonely E-4 Corporal, which and E-4 can also be a non-NCO as a specalist, which many of the Soldiers competing were Specalists. Anyways, I was the only Infantry guy for the NCO's. The rest were support or super-support soldiers, which meant they would have ample time to study, unlike me. Finally, they all had previous boards to this that they had won to get here. I had thrown my name out, been picked, and here I was.

By the time they were done with the Soldiers, it was lunch time, and along with myself, the board members were hungry I guess. They gave us about 50 mins to break for lunch and I quickly walked all the way to the chow hall and had a 1/2 of a sub sandwhich. I didnt want to eat too much, but I was starving since I didn't have breakfast. Once I got back, I cracked open my other RedBull and smoked some cigarettes while I was waiting for my 'sponsor' to show back up. When he did, he had some terrible information. Apparently, the unit that lost the guy the night before, has just lost 2 more guys. There was to be a Hero flight a little later. I'll explain this one in a bit.

Well they started doing the NCO's but they were in a hurry, obviously. They ended up only asking 1 question per subject. Each board member (there were 7 of them) had 4 subjects, so that really wasn't a lot of questions. By the time it was my turn, I wasn't really that nervous and ready to get in there and do the thing. Sure enough they called my name. I started getting a little nervous but not that bad. I went in, and I think I did pretty damn well. I only missed a few questions, but I was able to get ones that were even outside of what I had studied. Also found out that the CSM in charge of the board, was from Phoenix and went to HS out there, and was also 82nd at one point and was with the 505th PIR which was my first unit that I was assigned to at Ft. Bragg. Such a small world. Anyways, once they were all done asking me questions, I left, happy with how I had performed. Apparently they had one more 'stap on' guy to go after me, but after he was done they were going to add the points real qucik, and then bring us in to announce the winner. Well, I didn't end up winning, but I was very close. I ended up getting 2nd place, and the points difference wasn't much. I ended up getting a Brigade Coin for getting 2nd place, which was cool. I really like collecting those things, and have quite the collection building. I was pround of how I had done, and it really didn't matter that I hadn't won, although it would of been nice.

Once the winner was announced, everyone was in a hurry. The Hero flight was in 5 minutes and everyone was rushing to get there in time. I rushed to my room, dropped off all my gear and began running to the flight line to get there in time. I barely made it. I knew it was important to be there, but I truely didn't KNOW...

So your probably wondering what a Hero flight is. In fact I had never heard the term until this day. What a Hero flight is, is the flights that carry the soldiers who have been killed in combat here, the flights that carry our heroes home. I had never seen this before and it was quite the new expereince. When I came running around the corner, I stopped with a group of people and they were at attention, along with the unit that had lost their soldiers, in formation, guidons present, everyone standing at attention, on both sides of the road, and forming a line down the flight line. There were 2 Blackhawk helicopters sitting there, engines running, and blades turning. In the middle of the street was an FLA (an Army ambulance). The orders were being yelled for everyone to salute, and when I heard the order "PRESENT ARMS!!" I followed suit. At this point, a group of soldiers walked up to the FLA and grabbed out a combat stretcher. It carried the body of a soldier, drapped in an american flag. You could still see the outline of the soldiers body, and it hit me then. There is a true american hero underneath that flag. Right there, not far from me, lies the body of someone who has made the ultimate sacrifice. I felt extremely sad, yet proud to be a part of the first voyage of this young mans Hero flight.

They marched him down the flight line, and then onto one of the awaiting Blackhawks. They then began the process again, with another soldier, another American hero. Shivers ran through my body, and Im not going to lie, it took everything I had not to begin tearing up. I did not know these soldiers in any way, but the realness of it all, seing the bodies under the flags, seeing how everyone came together to pay the honors these men deserved, it was overwealming. Once both men were on the helicopters, we all dropped out salutes, but stood at attention. Orders were given and everyone was now facing the helicopters and then the order was given to saltue once more. Once, my salute was being rendered, I heard the sound of the Blackhawk engines pickup, for they were getting ready to leave. They begin to lift off, but stopped 5 feet off the ground and just hovered there. Slowly, in unison, they began to move to the left, to the right, front and back, still just 5 feet off the ground. Then they both began to turn left, and once facing the appropriate direction, slowly lifted off and then sped off to these Hero's next stopping point. And just like that, they were gone and it was over. Even typing this right now, I can feel shivers running down my spine, and I can't help but feel sadness.

Once again, the true cost of war, for 2 more american soldiers, hero's, paid with their lives. And once again, the reality of this place slaps me in the face. The seriousness of what we do, and the seriousness of what our enemy does. And just like that, its again not just a job, its a way of survival. We don't do things here, just to do them for the hell of it. We do them because its what we have to do to survive. Forget all the politics and everything thats going on back home. The only thing that matters here, is living. Living yourself, making sure your guys are living. Fighting to survive another day here. Fighting to make it home. Make it home to see our families and our friends. Thats all that really matters over here.


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18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am speachless after your heartfelt post. Godspeed to you and your men.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this very moving experience with the rest of us. My heart goes out to all of you at each loss...and to the families of these soldiers who gave all. Thank you for doing what you do for us. God Bless and keep you safe. SA-North Carolina

Rejenia said...

I stand amazed at your growth. I am very proud of the way you approached the boards, and the outcome. But I am even prouder to watch the way you just keep learning and growing. You went to the board to show what you had learned and were able to process, and wound up having another learning experience. And using it for personal growth. It is a priviledge to have you in service to America. No grandmaisms today, I'm just too proud.

TISSUE ALERT:
Last night I came across something Go to: http://www.kget.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=40a681b2-c362-4263-aef8-f76ccfe6340d

It is the story by a former Navy jet jockey and what he saw. "Airport director witnesses fallen Marine's solemn return" read it. It shows another instance of what the media at large IS NOT SHOWING. DO NOT LET ANYONE TELL YOU AMERICANS DO NOT REALIZE & HONOR THE SACRIFICES. Okay, I'm getting angry, again, and verbose. Stay safe and keep those coins polished.

mamaworecombatboots said...

Take care, Eddie. Congrats on your performance on the board--you'll get it next time.

SYLKY said...

Okay... you're gonna have to start putting "Tissue Alert" on your posts for us chicks. *sniffle* I have never cried with your writings as much as with this one. Wow, dude, just wow! I feel so proud as an American to have people like you fighting over there. You totally rock Ed, and know that all your sacrifices are not in vain. We love you mucho and are praying for you buddy. P.S. Can you say "caffeine overload!" :)

Carla said...

I think this was one of the toughest blogs to read of yours ... it makes me step back and give thanks for what I've got.

I sent you an email ... Hope you're well ...

Della said...

Thanks - for being there in our place, to honor the fallen as well as to protect us and taking the time to share it with us. It is greatly appreciated.

Labrys said...

I am glad you made it to the Hero Flight, sorry that is a necessary part of war. I get teary with every DOD news release that brings me the names ...the names that I walk into my Walk of the Fallen Memorial Labyrinth. Take good care of yourself, I am sure you are in good company.

Christy said...

My dad served with 82 in WWII. He would have loved to be reading this blog. He died in 1997, ret'd WO4. After Airborne he went to MI, so like you, he was studying quite a bit of his career.

Thanks for letting us know about your board. Good luck on the next one and congrats on 2nd place.

Trudy said...

What is a Brigade Coin?

AirborneParaInf82 said...

A brigade coin is a specility coin (like a dollar coin to 50 cent coin size) that can be either coin shaped or really whatever design they wish. It has cool pictures and designs (usually in color) and are used to give out to soldiers who are seen to be doing a good job.

Coins can be something like a Batallion CSM coin or something all the way up to a 4 star generals coin, and everything in between.

Also if ever drinking and someone wants a free drink he can pull a coin out, and if no one has a higher coin then they get the free drink, otherwise the guy with the highest coin gets its. Although this isn't quite "official" :)

aprille said...

It gives me shivers, too. What an honor to be present there. God bless you all.

Wanda said...

I like the idea of the Hero Flight, what an honor. Thank you so much. My daughter is a Marine with one tour done, whenever I read of our dead it is like it is one of my children.

I like the way you described the way the helicopters moved on lift off. It reminds me of honoring the winds, the four quarters of the earth? There is a wholesomeness to it.

Take care and be careful and better luck next time.

Wanda

Bill Martin said...

I read your post on Hero Flight and I found it very moving and emotional. I was a little confused about the helicopters movements until later in the day it hit me like a ton of bricks. They were flying the "sign of the cross" in honor of the men they were transporting.

Passerby said...

Very informative post. Hadn't heard peep one about these Hero Flights, but I recognized the formation movement. Thanks for describing your NCO competition and the Hero Flight ceremony.

Heather Angus said...

When I read of the Hero Flight, I got shivers too. Just typing this, I feel them.

Thank you for describing this, and for being over there for us.

Mike said...

Very powerful writing, the description of the Hero Flight. Thank you. Congrats on the 2nd place! Thanks for the blog, and more importantly, your service..

willo said...

I'd never heard of the "Hero Flights" but feel like I was witnessing it right along with you. I watch the news endlessly for every word or picture from Iraq. Thank you again for your service and for all the troops serving everywhere. We hold you in our hearts and prayers til all comes home.
The Texas Mom