I don’t know if I made choices during my deployment to Afghanistan based on my past deployment experiences to Saudi, Bosnia, or Kuwait (all of which usually consisted of being trapped on a base for several months, then rushing through Germany or Spain, sampling the liquid fare on my way back home, arriving hung over and none the wiser) or if my ongoing heartbreak removed layers of protection that had been in place for as long as I could remember. Whatever the impulsion, I made choices during this deployment that I’m not sure I would have made at other times in my life. I wasn’t taking unnecessary risks so much as I was refusing to be held back from fully experiencing things. That is probably why I did what I did when the helicopter approached. Or it could have been the Australian accents. Yep. That was probably it. There’s something about an Australian accent that just makes me go all soft inside. Listening to all those Aussies, so rugged and masculine, combined with the jarring ride in the Bushmaster, must have scrambled my ability to logically think through causes to their effects.
When we arrived, there was a buzz in the air around the camp. I experienced some excitement earlier in the trip when we had to make a quick stop in an open field situated in a valley between two Afghan hills. The back of our he-lo dropped open and a security team scrambled out into the grass just in time to greet the heads popping up all around them, like groundhogs sniffing springtime air. Almost before I realized what was happening in the middle of this nowhere, the security team grabbed a couple wooden chests containing foodstuffs and supplies for the Aussies we would see at their remote location. The moments on the ground were tense and everyone was very alert; I learned later the drop zone was a place known for its Taliban activity. The General was a high value target, and no one wanted to have to report that they allowed him to be harmed, but every opportunity to get much-needed supplies had to be fully exploited. In less than two-minutes the gear was loaded and we were hoisted away by the whipping blades above us.
Now, finally reaching the location, I could see why the supplies were so important. There was nothing here but some plywood sheds, cots, camo-netting and sandbag bunkers. We traveled back in time to Vietnam or Korea. The dedication of these men, to live completely unprotected and exposed in order to hold this position was truly inspiring. And now, something more wonderful than getting supplies was happening. They were finally getting some protection. Yellow smoke was popped, denoting the drop position for the incoming he-lo. As it approached, the large gun was attached to the belly of the machine like a young monkey clinging to her mother. Wanting to get as close as I could for the video I was shooting with my camera, I stood just a few feet away from the expected delivery point. I was pushed forward by the invisible excitement of the men, mesmerized by the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the giant, scissor-like blades whipping, whipping, whipping around the hairline of the machine.
No one cautioned me. No one suggested I stay back. I didn’t notice when the Chief and General, along with nearly everyone else, positioned themselves well-behind the blasting walls several feet behind where I was standing. How could they not want to see this? I decided my brothers in the Army were desensitized by the absolute awesomeness of watching a helicopter drop a giant gun down in the middle of nowhere in the same way I was desensitized to seeing F-16s on a runway. But I was determined not to miss this, possibly, once in a lifetime experience. I wanted to see everything, and to feel the wind whirling around, trying to push me over. I got my wish. With a steady hand, I recorded the magisterial entrance, in fact, I was right underneath the passageway of the incoming he-lo and its cargo…like an idiot. The blades did what the blades do, picking the air up, and grabbing handfuls of debris with it. Before I could compute the physics of the situation, I was overcome by a tidal wave of rocks and dirt.