Monday, June 20, 2011

In Memoriam

There was another casualty on base last week. One of the maneuver unit's trucks hit an IED and the force of the blast flipped the vehicle; the gunner was killed during the rollover. They were two weeks away from going home.

I didn't know the individual in question, a twenty-year old PFC from Connecticut, but the news of his death, in relatively stable Bala Baluk district, still shook me and the rest of the base pretty hard. I went back to my office and was reading the news, and something in a clip on Mexican drug wars for some reason set me off -- I think it was the sound of the machine gun fire in the background of it. I found myself with my head in my hands, sobbing, and my first thought was -- I need to get out of this place. But that just made me feel guilty, because being away from Afghanistan won't fix anything; it will just make all the myriad problems of this place easier to ignore. My next thought was -- we need to get out of here. All of us.

The remains of soldiers killed in action are seen off in a procession called a Ramp Ceremony, attended by almost everyone on base. Soldiers form in ranks on either side of the road, come to attention and salute the flag-draped casket as it is driven by, accompanied by a soldier from the same unit. The remains are blessed by the chaplain, and the casket is loaded into a helicopter for repatriation. Once attention is called, the ceremony is silent and hauntingly beautiful. I have mercifully attended only three Ramp Ceremonies in my time in Farah, and I stood in the dark and cried through this one, for a soldier I never met who was two weeks from going home.

The entire event left me seized with hopelessness for the future of this country and questioning why we are still here.