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Monday
Oct052009

A face I'd recognize anywhere...

 

October 5, 2009
 
While I was in Afghanistan, I spent time with the guys in the command out posts - showering with bottled water warmed by the sun, eating lots of boxed mashed potatoes, wiping dust and gravel off every inch of equipment in a tent after a commander's helicopter pushed dust into every inch of the place, and always -- trying not to get sick, either from altitude or heat.  
And in the midst of that, I traveled with a group of weekend warriors from Wisconsin who have the most dangerous job in Afghanistan -- looking for and disarming roadside bombs.
 
Their Sergeant First Class - is Chet Millard, a 32 year old corrections officer with four kids at home and a wife who's as strong as they come.
 
Yeah, he's been to Afghanistan before - heck yeah. He's a reservist.  But between his sarcastic and dry wit, his hard-driving ways and his dusty grin, he could pull his guys through a 36 hour stretch without any hot meals, no time or safety conditions to even use a bathroom while they bore the burden of the bombs they found....and worse yet, the bombs they missed.
 
Because the roads where they were asked to work were so dangerous that they knew that as soon as they could no longer see that stretch of road in the rearview mirror - it would get  re-seeded with IED's.
 
They live with that.
 
And so - now that I'm back to this Norman Rockwell-by-comparison life of mine here in DC, surrounded by so many familiar, caring people, I come back from a run on a Saturday morning only to find my TIME magazine in the mailbox.  And I take a quick peak at the cover, and my heart freezes.  I don't want to see the picture of a body today.
 
It drops from my hands like a hot coal.
 
When I pick it up again, it's to take it inside.
 
Only then do I look closely at the cover...and see a familiar face.  
 
Only - there's only a date and a caption -- there's no article about him.
 
He's lying on a medevac with that cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his eyes closed...is he alive? or is he dead?
 
He's so wiley and cunning, I find it hard to believe he's dead -- but that's just it.  Roadside bombs are so unpredictable - that's the point.  And no one thinks they're going to get hit...and yet everyone takes precautions not to get hit.  But here's the thing -- you get into a routine -- and then in an instant, everything changes, and it doesn't matter who you are or what your rank is or how great you'd be in a firefight.  
 
I'm happy to report SFC Millard is not dead.  Members of his unit tell me he escaped with just a few bruises and scrapes.  In fact he's already been returned to duty and is helping out his unit in other ways.  But just last week, their company did lose a soldier - Sgt. Ryan Adams died from a roadside bomb.  Now more than ever - it's personal.
 

 

 

Reader Comments (1)

Welcome home, Jess! but I can't even begin to imagine what it was like...and how hard it will be being back here now. Give yourself time. Love you!

October 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCara Putman

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