October 28th was the tenth year anniversary of my first deployment. As I pause to reflect, I am reminded of the heroism of our soldiers rushing to aid our wounded brothers and sisters on the field.
In the days leading up to my deployment, I remember qualifying for the M9 combat handgun and the M14 rifle twice, once at Fort Campbell and then again at Fort Benning. Special Forces & CRC TSIRT. It is very early and cold in the range. Moving targets have been placed at varying distances. Wearing the entire body armor including plates (IOTV), Kevlar helmet, gloves, pads, and ballistic glasses.
Next IED training. Again, outside early morning in a mixture of rain and snow and ice pellets. Continuing to draw weapons. No exceptions. These tasks need to be completed. Then piles of paperwork for JAG and finance and others. I move from RIF to CIF. The Army loves acronyms.
On my way to FOB Bostick, I pass through Frankfurt Hahn Airbase. It feels like the 1950s – heavy clouds of secondhand smoke. The alternative would be to stand outside in the freezing cold blizzard. I fly with my weapon. Eventually we arrive in Kuwait desert. Arabic traffic signs. Ali Al Salem is pitch dark. We unload the truck full of duffle bags as a team. We find our cots and finally doze off. I board a C17 to Bagram next day.
The flight is indescribable.
By some miracle, I sit between two Chaplains. A straight nosedive and we land. I cannot see anything in the dark. I am told we are in Bagram. After traveling to billeting, I stay in a large tent for the night with 18 other female soldiers. I am prescribed acetazolamide for altitude sickness and walk blocks away from the tent to the female latrine seven or eight times during the next few challenging hours.
Since my arrival, I notice that I do not see any female Afghans. They are invisible. And it’s never quiet at Bagram.
After two days at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, I take a 40-minute helicopter ride through high mountains to my final destination. The mountain range is beautiful. Numerous high passes transect the mountain. I see small villages and goat shepherds with their children looking up at us. We arrive to find the base under attack from the Taliban. One of the soldiers grabs me as I leave the helicopter and we run to our FST to take cover.
There is a garden surrounding a Mosque with delicate flowers, some in bloom sitting bathed in sunlight against a background of war. It seems out of place with the rest of the “scenery.” At sunset, I hear the call to prayer from the mosque. It resonates throughout the base quite beautifully.
I hear more “incoming.” Escorted back to the FST, we wear our IOTV and helmet. We receive two patients. My first trauma patient is an 8-year old Afghan boy with a deep laceration to his left lower extremity. He was hit “after the mortar went off.” I do not see a single tear from him. There is no expression. This is my first few hours of deployment.
I awaken by more gunshots and mortars. The chinooks and black hawks are always landings. I am on combat surgery call for the next seven months. I pinch myself. I feel grateful to serve our deeply committed soldiers. We’re all in this together.