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.