Yesterday a close friend of mine told me that a young woman, a friend of his, had telephoned to tell him that her brother had just been killed in action in Afghanistan. On hearing this, I felt an overwhelming sense of tragedy at a young life gone.

The war is so abstract for most of us, something we’ve been reading about in newspapers for so many years now that for many it has taken on a surreal quality. And yet people die. They die day after day after day, and every once in a while we have a personal connection to one of those people.

I know that we all have different politics, different opinions about the meaning of the war, its goals, its methods. But I think we all can agree that whatever other meanings there are here, that the loss of a young person – with their unique thoughts and hopes and dreams for the future, all now gone forever – is an event of overwhelming sadness.

4 Responses to “Gone”

  1. troy says:

    Loss of life always has a profound effect on someone… Sometimes, even the empathetic effect can be profound. I have stood in formation watching caskets get loaded onto C-17s in Afghanistan, draped in flags… Sometimes people that I didn’t know, sometimes people that were on missions that I had flown on the night before.

    They have ramp ceremonies as people go home “the hard way”. Sometimes, more formal ceremonies in a tent at camp where the deceased are represented by a pair of boots, a rifle, and a helmet. A picture of a smiling face… It’s always hard to participate. I am human.

    You feel a deep sadness having to face these brutal realities. My face begins to itch standing in the hot sun with salty tears drying on my cheeks and neck. But, I’m also grateful. Yes, it’s a tragic loss… Yes, they are young… scary young… But, it is because we these sacrifices that we enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we do. It is because of these realities that people can voice that they despise war, question leaders, burn flags… It saddens me that many people don’t realize the higher purpose.

    The first time I did a combat rescue, I looked into the back of the helicopter and was shocked at the little kid, wearing tan camo, shot up, and laying in a stretcher… You don’t get used to that… But, more kids die on the streets of Detroit every year than in Afghanistan… For no reason at all…

    Last week I wrote a blog entry, that got picked up by a local newspaper about a combat rescue mission that I flew two summers ago. It ended up with flag draped caskets. Not a happy ending. It was more about the mindset of a mission oriented rescue crew than about the loss of life. If you’re at all interested it’s here: http://troydowning.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/self-preservation/

    I know I’m verbosely blabbering, and I appologize, but, I was faced with another reality recently that really got me thinking… Yes, the kids killed in action leave painfully real scars and deep sadness… But, I have some friends that lost their kids in a plane crash last spring. Lost their 37 year old son, his wife, and their 4 and 5 year old grandkids… It was so much harder for me to face them than anything else. These weren’t my kids, but, I felt such a deep sense of loss at this accident, which was, just an accident. For some reason the accidental loss was worse than the still tragic loss in an effort to serve. I couldn’t go to the funeral, and just saw the parents for the first time last week… What do you say? Sorry… So sad.

    Just another note, rambling again of course… But, the stories are not all bad… There are also the stories where I helped save the life of a 9-year old Afghan boy who fell out of a truck and broke his skull, the humanitarian missions into small villages near Kandahar that were living inhumane lives under the opression of the Taliban… Many, many positives…

  2. admin says:

    If I understand your logic correctly, the reason people are dying half way around the world is so that people here at home can voice their protest over the fact that people are dying half way around the world. Hmm. Please don’t get me wrong. I like a good protest as much as anyone, but mass death and suffering seems to be a high price to pay just so people have an excuse to go out on a nice Sunday afternoon and burn a few flags.

    Seriously Troy, you have shown personal bravery in saving lives. I admire that enormously. Unfortunately we still have to face the current state of things in Afghanistan.

    I think the Obama administration is making a mistake in escalating. We have not won the hearts and minds of people there. The only reason for the Afghan citizenry to support the U.S. would be signs that we are building infrastructure – roads, hospitals, farming equipment and support – and there has been too little of that. There is no such thing as “winning” in Afghanistan if the people there don’t support us.

    BTW, I hope I’m not upsetting anyone by criticizing the Obama administration. Apparently, if I understand some of the comments here, I’m supposed be in the “pro-Obama camp”, which means I am apparently legally and ethically obligated to defend anything this administration says or does, while people in the “anti-Obama camp” are equally obligated to do the exact opposite. By breaking this rule, I will probably cause some rupture in the time-space continuum.

    So if you see cows flying through the air, and it starts raining toasters, it’s probably all my fault, and I’ll just apologize here in advance for the inconvenience.

  3. troy says:


    That was an oversimplification. The problems are much more complicated than that. I used a simple and silly example to make a statement that we enjoy the freedoms that we do as Americans because we have people that are willing to fight for them.

    I also cling to the belief that you are an intelligent person. And as an intelligent person, you would not have wholesale support for anyone in office, just as you wouldn’t completely discount a person in office with a great idea just because he/she is from the other camp. So, you can be the Obama cheerleader as much as you want, but, I’d expect nothing less from you than to applaud him when you agree and criticize him when you don’t. To me, that’s the sign of a person that seeks truth rather than just jump on the wagon.

    I agree with you on a few points here. I agree that this is not a war we can win… This is a loosely held tribal group of very different people. They will never be like us and they will never think like us. But, that’s not why we need to stay the course. We will be there for generations because we have to. This is not a war, this is a defense. For reasons that are well beyond the scope of your sentiments in this post. (which are genuinely sad and thought provoking).

    Hearts and minds? We’re winning them all of the time. In small doses. I’ve seen it first hand… But, they are also an oppressed people that live in fear and are used to death being an everyday part of life.

    I’d love to discuss this in detail, but, this doesn’t seem the appropriate post to attach it to.

  4. troy says:

    Sorry to add an addendum…I should probably think more before I press “Submit”. But, way back in the beginning of our Obama discussions… I mentioned something about my fear about what I percieved as Obama’s naive approach to National Security… at the time, I mentioned that my fear was somewhat mitigated by his intelligence… That as an intelligent man, he would modify his assumptions about National Security once he had a clearance and access to the State Department.

    Much to my relief, this seems to be happening.

Leave a Reply