April 10, 2013

Name:  1SG James L. Gibson
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Forest Grove, Oregon
Milblog: The Life of Top
Email: James.l.gibson@afghan.swa.army.mil

Not everything about combat is glorious.

The communications black-out has finally been lifted.

The Taliban bloodied our noses a couple days ago. Three warriors from our Brigade were taken from us, a US Diplomat, and numerous more were injured. The Operations Sergeant Major made his way into my office yesterday morning to alert me of the contact that was happening in town. “Get your CLEAR team prepared” he said “Two KIA, possibly more.”

My CLEAR team is a group of Soldiers that received special training back in Washington before we deployed. They have the worst job in the Army; dealing with the remains of Soldiers that have been killed. I notified the team and went back to the office to wait for further guidance. As I waited, I observed my Soldiers closely and watched their emotions change as they grasped the severity of the situation.

“Initial reports are always worse than reality,” I thought to myself as I hoped for the best.

I received a call from the Battle Captain: “All Soldiers with A-Positive blood type need to report to the Level 2 Aid Station." I have a list created on my desktop for just this purpose. My runner and I went through the buildings ordering Soldiers to go give blood. This was a bad sign.

Five minutes later I received another call, this time for type O-Positive.

The Soldiers in contact were not from our unit, but another that is part of our Brigade. I don’t know any of them personally, but living on a small FOB I have met most everyone. After a few hours I was told to stand down my CLEAR team as they were not going to be needed. Numbers of Killed In Action (KIA) and Wounded (WIA) were still unclear.

At around 1500 we were told that they wanted all available Soldiers to the Helicopter LZ, in formation. Immediately I knew what was happening; we were headed to pay our last respects. I walked through the buildings notifying the Troop and we all headed down to the LZ. We arrived and stood in formation for around 45 minutes before we were told that it wasn’t happening at this time. Brigade would call us all back when they were ready to conduct the dignified transfer of remains.

I took this time to address my Troop. These were the first KIA that we have had this deployment, on this FOB, and I knew that it was going to bother all of them to some degree. I made sure that they knew that I was affected by it, and that they needed to talk about it with someone, the Chaplin, their leadership, myself, or anyone.

After I was done talking with the Troop the commander and I headed up to grab some chow. As we waited in line, CPT Lindberg came in and grabbed us. Brigade called us all back down for the event. We made our way back and got our Troopers in formation. The Brigade CSM gave us a heads up; the first three ambulances would be carrying the wounded to the Medical Evacuation Helicopters. It was quiet. Two Blackhawks landed and turned off their engines.

About 500 Soldiers were lined up in two formations, facing each other to create a path from the Level 2 Aid Station to the LZ. As the wounded were being loaded up, a second pair of Blackhawks arrived; the “Angel Flight.” It took a little over an hour to completely load all of the wounded, there was no hurry, and no one complained about standing in formation for that length of time; it was silent except for the gentle hum of the Humvee engine as it passed by.

After the wounded were loaded the Humvees went back to pick up the KIA. We were going to have to wait another 10 minutes while the wounded were flown out. The oxygen level was running out on the Blackhawks; the wounded needed to get to higher level care.

The wounded flew out as the KIA were loaded onto the ambulances. As the Humvees approached we rendered a salute to respect those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, and lowered the salute after they passed. We rendered another salute as they were removed from the ambulance and loaded onto the helicopter. As the helicopter left, we were released back to work. It was a quiet walk back to the office…


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