Friday, May 24, 2013

Fullbore Friday

I find myself going in to this Memorial Day weekend a bit weary, but I have no reason to be.

I had another one of those conversations that I just try to avoid and walk away from. Almost four years since I left active duty and now working far away from all things military - in a fashion I enjoy just being Mr., and no one really needs to know the once-was CDR - and that is fine. You can't hide it though, it comes up now and then as a natural part of the conversation.

Even in a very military friendly town, you run in to those who just, well, just don't know - or what they do know is wrong. It started innocent enough earlier this week at a networking event - doing what one does and talking to someone who, unknown to me at the time, was a person who seems to live in one of those world-view bubbles; expected results followed.

When I stated, "When I returned back home ... " it was another back an forth until she gathered I was retired military. She asked when the last deployment for me was, and I mentioned the shortened one in late '08 and early '09 to AFG - which I told her just finished things up for me as AFG was "my" part of the Long War, nosomuch IRQ. 

Oops. My fault. Well, that set her off. I don't recall everything, but in the course of a few minutes all I heard was stuff about lies, WMD, Bush, and Abu Ghraib - and that is when I stopped her. I just asked her, "Is that all you think of?" 

Well, she rewound her elevator speech on IRQ again, so I interrupted with mine. Mostly I talked over her and said, "We turned the corner in '07 and achieved most of our goals and end states by late '08 where we could declare victory and let Iraq choose their fate with an even chance. It was worth it - and good people gave their all for that victory."

I walked away with her still talking at me. No one raised their voice on either end ... I just couldn't stand it any more. Soured me on the whole networking event.

I guess good people can argue both sides - but I was there from beginning to end in the AOR. From Bahrain in SEP01 to Kabul through '09. I know the facts as we knew them. I am at peace that history will eventually tell the story correctly. I will not let the uninformed and unbalanced like that woman define IRQ for me.

On the drive home and on and off this week, I kept thinking about '07. I was remembering that conversation Bill Ardolino and I had either on or right before Midrats last Sunday about the discussion I had with Papa Salamander in '07 about IRQ and AFG - Papa Salamander and I may have been very different men who did not agree on much, but I do miss him.

Anyway, enough of me. '07 was the year with the greatest casualties in Iraq, 904. 2007; I kept thinking of it, and then it hit me. Captain Harris and her MEDIVAC flight. Seven of that 904.

Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, USMC, 28 years old and on her third combat tour, was killed in action 07 FEB 2007 flying the PHROG with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364), Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, from Camp Pendleton, Calif. She was shot down while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.

Her crew was: 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, Sgt. Travis D. Pfister, Cpl. Thomas E. Saba, Sgt. James R. Tijerina, Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr. and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Manuel A. Ruiz.

Below is a tribute video I surprisingly found. I almost did not post it - as it includes video from the enemy of the shoot down - but the more I thought of it, the more I saw it as a tribute. After taking two SAM hits, she managed to keep her aircraft under control for an exceptionally long time - and was close to getting it on the ground when it all came undone.

We often see names and places on Memorial Day weekends - but we rarely show what sacrifice is - what we ask our men and women to do in our name. If you don't want to see an American aircraft shot down, then don't watch the video. But if you, like me, think you honor Capt. Harris and her crew by seeing their last full measure - then watch the tribute video.

While you do that, this Memorial Day Weekend - think of Jennifer, Jared, Travis, Thomas, James, Gilbert, and Manuel. Look at those on the beach to the left and right. Look at the parents with small children running about the aisles while shopping. Look at the young man or woman pumping gas as they get ready to hit the road. Then look at the empty spot at the beach, the quite open aisle at the store, the empty gas pump; that is where they are supposed to be, but aren't. That is what we are supposed to remember on Memorial Day. 

Because they took off that day for us, Jennifer isn't at the beach, Jared isn't having dinner with family, Travis isn't shopping, Thomas isn't mowing the yard, James isn't pumping gas, Gilbert isn't on the phone with relatives, and Manuel isn't on duty this weekend so his Shipmates could have the long weekend off.

It as been six years since the shootdown. Think also of the possibility that in that time, we also don't have the pleasure of what children those Marines and Sailors may have fathered or given birth to.

Such it is; such as it always been; such shall it always be.


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