Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tough Year for the Screaming Eagles

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The lead story in today's Stars and Stripes concerns the fatalities that have befallen the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.  So far, 104 soldiers from the Screaming Eagles have been killed in Afghanistan this calendar year, or roughly twenty percent of all American fatalities in what has become the deadliest year yet for our troops in that war.

The 101st Airborne Division was formed in 1944 just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  Today the Division is over 20,000 strong and, when not deployed, it is housed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

I worked with the Family Advocacy Program at Ft. Campbell through most of 2006 and 2007.  At the time I arrived there, the Division was deployed to Iraq.  (During the 2005-06 deployment the Division suffered 105 fatalities.)

One of my many duties while at Ft. Campbell was to help with the debriefings as the planes brought the troops home directly to the base.  On those days and evenings I would wait with the families on the tarmac watching for the first sign of the plane coming in.   A roar would go up from the crowd as the speck that was the aircraft was first sighted.   As the young soldiers came down the steps from the plane toting or dragging their gear, the families screamed and yelled their welcomes, held children aloft to get a view of daddy or mommy as they marched past, and cried and cried with relief.

The families were taken into the hangar to wait a few minutes longer to throw themselves into the arms of their loved ones, and the soldiers formed up outside to listen to a few necessary and basically useless spiels - such as mine on how to access mental health services.  (Like everyone else, I never took more than a minute to give my information, because we knew that all those people could possibly be focused on was getting inside to be with their families.

And then the sliding doors at the end of the hangar were pulled open, the band began to play, the generals and dignitaries on the stage came to attention, and the brave men and women of the 101st marched inside to thundering applause.  After the briefest of remarks by the people on the stage, the troops were dismissed to reunite with their loved ones.  My "job" at that point became just to stay out of the way, and to keep an eye out for those sad few who had nobody waiting to welcome them home.  When that happened I transformed myself into an instant relative.

It was a scene that played out dozens of times as the Division slowly made its way home, and I was fortunate to be involved in five or six of the reunions.  Those were some of the most somber, yet joyous, occasions that I will ever experience in this life.

I am not a fan of Bush, or Cheney, or Rumsfield, or any of the other evil bastards who engineered these oil and glory wars - and I am not a fan of war in general.  But I do respect and admire the young people who stepped forward and put their lives on the line when they felt that our country needed their help.  They displayed courage and honor - something that the wars' architects were sadly lacking.

I grieve for the soldiers from the 101st Division who died during this deployment and those who will come home broken, many beyond repair.   Their sacrifice was as heroic as it was tragic and needless.

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