This post is part of a series called Veteran Voices. We owe all veterans the right to tell their story, as they see it, without our judgement. The stories that follow are told directly by Veterans. These words offer insights into the souls of our warrior class.
Rather than thanking a Veteran for their service, read their stories, connect with their losses, and find your own strength in their courage.
Everything happens in threes
You may be a little disheartened that this title will not lead you to some sort of sexual erotic fantasy behind a generator, but I am sure many of you will appreciate and be able to relate this story.
‘Dammit! It’s happening. Breathe.’
Sometimes you are forced to make decisions you know are going to lead to the inevitable death of a patient. While deployed, Soldiers adhered to very specific “rules of engagement” (ROE), even during medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) duties. These rules specified to which hospital each patient was delivered. The MEDEVAC ROE were pretty clear cut.
- Any patient 18 years of age and younger will be transported to the American Hospital on Kandahar Air Field.
- Any patient 18 years of age and older will to be transferred to the Afghani run hospital, known as Camp Hero.
‘Deep breaths. In through your nose. Out through your mouth.’
Camp Hero is the local national “hospital” on Kandahar Airfield run by Afghani medical personnel. This emergency room type facility is where the Afghani people start “taking care of their own.” It’s a bloody slaughter house if you ask me. A place where I would not entertain the thought of bringing even my worst enemy.
‘Looking up to the sky, I hope that gravity will keep the tears from falling. Just breathe.’
At the time of this deployment I had two beautifully innocent daughters who were my world. My every decision was rooted in my love for these two impressionable little humans who needed a mommy to help them make appropriate life decisions, to rear them, and to give them guidance through the ups and downs of life. No one ever forgets the first moment they hold their newborn child in their arms. Love floods your life. I never realized what “love” was until I had children of my own.
My motherly love and instinct doesn’t just stop with my own children. I found myself taking on this motherly role every time we had a child patient. When a local national child on a liter passed by my door I saw my children in their place. I saw my children’s faces filled with complete despair. Not only was ‘my baby’ hurt, but being placed on this loud flying object, with people they don’t know. A feeling of helplessness fills me because I can’t comfort my daughters. I blink and am brought back to reality to realize the child is not mine.
‘Don’t allow the flood gates to open. Emotions are weak!’
Picking up adult patients has a completely different dynamic than picking up children. A sense of innocence fills the aircraft. All judgement is gone. We are here to save the life of a child and possibly change their prejudices of Americans. They say things happen in threes…
“MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! You have one Category A (possibility of losing life, limb or eyesight mission)”
Our first patient of the day was a 15 year old child. Our assumption, based off the ROE, was that the child would be going to the American Hospital. To our great disbelief, we were told to bring the child to Camp Hero. “Kandahar Tower, please be advised we have a 15 year old patient on board.” My heart sunk at the response that followed. “MEDEVAC Aircraft, Kandahar Tower, you are to bring the patient to Camp Hero.” Every horrible feeling associated with Camp Hero filled my veins. We delivered the patient to Camp Hero but not without regrets. Within 45 minutes of shutting down the aircraft at our Forward Observation Base (FOB)……
“MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! You have one category A”
Another child. Prior to getting the patient, our entire crew acknowledged the frustration of our last flight. Once the patient was on board the medic told us the child was 14 years old. Knowing the last child was 15, 14 would probably not make any difference for the medical officer making the decisions. We formulated a plan. If the child was younger, they may change their minds. This child was now “12 years of age” and we were going to get this little darling to the American Hospital. “Kandahar Tower MEDEVAC aircraft inbound with a 12 year old Category A!” Again, we were told to bring a child to Camp Hero. Comments immediately came from the crew. “What the hell is going on?” “Who is making these decisions?” “They obviously don’t have children!” Adamant that we would get this child to the American Hospital, we tried again. “Kandahar Tower, MEDEVAC aircraft, I say again! We have a 12 year old child on board!” To our dismay, “MEDEVAC Aircraft you are ordered to bring the child to Camp Hero!” I’m sure everyone thought it but, “What the fuck,” came from someone in the aircraft.
‘Get your shit together! You are about to look like a fool!’
To say the crew was raging would be an understatement. Once back to our FOB, we all vented our anger in our own ways. Everyone finally settled down to a heated game of Spades. This game helped us pass many arduous hours during our deployment. Just as the game started to get entertaining,
“MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! MEDEVAC! You have one category A”
It was almost laughable. Another child. Ten years of age! As you can probably guess, “our child” was not going to be ten anymore! Disgust filled our minds because we knew the projected outcome. We were not about to let another child go to Camp Hero. Not on our watch. With this child’s injuries and the outcome of the day’s last two MEDEVAC calls, we discussed what to do when we got to Kandahar Airfield. “If we are directed to bring this child to Camp Hero, are all of you all willing to disobey their direct order and land at the American Helipad?” Every single one of us was unwavering. We knew this decision could ruin our careers.
We prepared for the worst. “Kandahar Tower, MEDEVAC aircraft inbound with an eight year old, Category A for the American hospital helipad!” “Negative MEDEVAC Aircraft you are ordered to bring the child to Camp Hero!” A sense of pride and defiance, along with a bit of nervousness filled the aircraft. Up until this point, I think I can speak for everyone in the crew, no one had ever disobeyed a direct order. We confirmed one more time, “Do we all agree to bring this child to the American Hospital?” A firm “Yes” came from every crewmember.
“NEGATIVE Kandahar Tower. MEDEVAC aircraft with an eight year old Category A is inbound for the American Hospital helipad!” There it was. We defied orders, making a choice we thought necessary to save this child’s life. A child we didn’t even know. With wheels on the ground we waited at American Hospital helipad for an ambulance. No one came, probably because they were ordered not to. As a crew, we again came to a decision to walk the patient the quarter mile to the hospital. Once everyone was back on the aircraft we departed for the FOB. Everyone was quiet with introspection of the day’s events.
‘The thoughts are racing through my mind.‘
Death. After death. After gruesome death. There is only so much blood, dismemberment, and death a person can take until they themselves break. ‘Why them?’ ‘Why not me?’ ‘Who would do this to their own people?’ ‘Why are these people so barbaric?’ Some stressors have a slow creep. Gradually they sneak up on you through the daily turmoil of life. Or, they swiftly smack you in the face at the least expected moment.
‘I NEED A GENERATOR!’
After returning to the FOB, I found my safe place. A place I knew that would keep my most vulnerable secrets safe. A place I learned about from one of my closest friends. It was as if I was let into a secret society the day she told me of this hidden place…… so obvious but completely out of sight. No one would know I was there. I went behind the generator where I could finally let me guard down. I plopped to the ground in a plume of dirt, leaned against a HESCO barrier, and with my elbows on my knees I placed my face in my hands. I let the emotions flow from my body like a fire hose. Literally and figuratively. I needed this release. It had been a while since I visited a trusty generator. I’m not sure how long I spent there that day surrounded by HESCO barriers and the muting noise of the generator. I know that I took my time. I wept for the two children who were sent to Camp Hero. I wept for my own children who were without their momma. I wept for my frustrations of war. By the end of my personal generator therapy session, I wiped the tears from my face, patted the dust from my uniform and was ready to take on another day.
Who knew that an inanimate, deafeningly loud, dirty object could provide a stepping stone on which to pause, gather courage, and rise again once more.
Photo credit of those simple, yet soul-saving, generators: US Army.