It was cold and gray. Early spring in eastern Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan was still new to the American people, but it was just a part of life to the people who lived there. Bagram Airfield sat in a flat area surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was made up of little more than a runway, a few dilapidated buildings that had fallen into disrepair, and the remains of old mud walls that once formed homes. The area was littered with remnants of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Overturned and sometimes burned military trucks lined the roads in and around the old base. Soviet fight planes, MiGs, sat in various states of ruin all over the flight line. The runway was constructed of green metal mesh that was turning into rust, as if being slowly reclaimed by nature. Like the surrounding buildings, the runways too, showed age and signs of combat. The once flat surface was cratered. Jagged pieces of torn metal reached up from the ground where mortar and artillery shells had penetrated its surface. The explosions sending earth and hot metal skyward.
Bagram had become little more than a cemetery. An unofficial memorial to those who fought there decades before.
By 2002, things had changed. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and the people of Afghanistan were facing a new foreign invader. This time, the United States was moving troops into Afghanistan in an effort to prevent terrorist organizations from seeking refuge there, and to disrupt any sort of terrorist training activities that were taking place in the country.
Still only months after the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of American people and brought the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center crashing to the streets and subways below, this war had the backing of the American people. Young people rushed to recruiting stations. American pride and nationalism flourished as people rallied around the flag in support of our government. Flags went up everywhere. Songs were written about the attacks, and about the American response to an attack on our own soil. It seemed that this sort of American pride had not been seen since the aftermath of the Japanese attack on our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor sixty years earlier.
As the American people debated about how our government should respond, and while first-responders were still searching for survivors, I was flying through the night sky in a Blackhawk helicopter with a full combat load of ammunition bound for destination unknown. I was an American soldier, an infantryman, and this was the start of my generation’s war.
To be continued…