Six years ago today the Afghan people turned out to vote in a national election. September 18th became one of those dotted line moments in my life. The Chinook I was aboard, #262, suffered catastrophic mechanical failure. I remember seeing smoke coming out of a panel above the crew chief’s head as he stood on the ramp with a screw driver opening things up to see what was going on. A moment later, Joe Speal‘s voice came over the headset, “Land this aircraft now!” Jeric East dropped us right out the sky onto a dry lake bed at the foot of a rugged, sawtooth range of mountains in the Hindu Kush. Their skillful handling of a dire situation ensured I’d be able to see Renee graduate first in her class this year.
Flying out of Savannah to San Jose in a few hours. Going to be drinking a toast to the crew of 262, to Local Union for coming to our rescue, the Polish infantry we had aboard who also kept us safe, and the Apache crews who circled overhead with enough menace to keep the Taliban at bay.
And, another big toast to Kyle Evarts, a Chinook pilot whose bravery and commitment to protecting those around him went beyond the extraordinary. I’ll never forget getting off the ramp, looking up and Seeing Kyle sweeping down on the deck to circle us and keep us safe until more help arrived. I was on a subsequent mission and watched Kyle go to the aid of some 173rd Airborne troops who had just been hit with an IED and were under small arms fire. Never seen a Chinook flown so aggressively and with such skill.
Earlier that day, I encountered Cass Wyllie for the first time. She & her command pilot were at FOB Ghazni refueling when we showed up before heading out to Ajerestan and our mechanical incident. I had no idea there were female gunship pilots in the brigade, so I took some photos of her, noticing her personalized helmet. The next day, when we went back to COP Ajerestan, I noticed the helmet again under very different circumstances.
That chance encounter at Ghazni has led to one of the most important friendships I’ve had since. So, Cass, I’ll be drinking a toast to you today as well.
The piece I wrote about this day, “We’re Not Leaving You Brother” ended up receiving a Thomas Jefferson Award that year, which aside from the accomplishments of my children is among the most meaningful things that has happened to me. I remember finding out about it over Facebook fromDwayne, and was totally astonished. I did not even know I’d been nominated. I sat in my library and remembered that day, feeling like all the effort, expense and personal cost it took to get to Afghanistan meant something after all.
With all the toasts, I’ll probably not be sober by the time I board my flight. But to all the folks in TF Brawler–thank you for everything. Being out with you was the most meaningful thing I’ve done professionally.
The story of that day is here.