FAR FROM HOME
Editor’s Note: The series “Far From Home” is written by local resident Doug LaFoille. It began in 2011, when his daughter, Danielle LaFoille was deployed to Afghanistan. He now details the Army career of his son, Jeremy, who is also stationed in Afghanistan.
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...Continued from the May 30 edition
Once again, he grabs his weapon and gear, gets over to the tarmac, and loads up in the bird (helicopter), unsure of flight time. He gets to the LZ (landing zone) at FOB Arien, and dismounts from the bird. Upon arriving at BAF, there are usually no amenities. However, it is now akin to a five star vacation resort. FOB Arien will be his home for the next 10 months. Wow. How does this happen?
He hits the DIFAC (dining facility), grabs some chow, finds a bunk, and gets some rest. There’s rain for the next four days and nights and soon there is three feet of water outside our tent. The canvas smells horrible, and it’s hard to sleep. He’s mortared almost every night and now there’s flooding inside the tent – his duffle gets soaked.
Jeremy gets acclimated to where everything is, and everyone checks equipment to ensure everything is up and running. They get briefed, since the first mission is only days away. The charging system on his CROW (common remote operating weapons system) is not working. The charging system allows him to pull back the lever to load the next round in his machine gun, which sits above the turret. Charging his weapon now this has to be done manually, meaning he has to exit the top of the vehicle, exposing him to possible sniper fire. He hopes to fix this soon.
Some of the guys from the unit heading home have volunteered to stick around to help the new guys figure out what’s going on. Their tour is up but, as many soldiers do, they want to ensure that everyone is safe and knows as much as they can about what’s going on.
Jeremy meets Sgt. Wade and immediately comes to enjoy his camaraderie, professionalism and ability to make everyone feel good. He’s 23 years old, already an E5 sergeant and has a 3-year-old daughter waiting for him at home. Jeremy wishes Sgt. Wade could stick around for the next nine or 10 months, but he’s heading home in just days.
Over the next couple days he and Jeremy spend hours talking and learning some of the tactics and tricks about how to get the missions accomplished. What they should do and shouldn’t do; where they should and shouldn’t go, and anything else pertinent their well-being and safety.
Jeremy gets up at 3 a.m. to cold – his Mac heater doesn’t work. It’s the first mission outside the wire, and he is not allowed to give specific information as to the location of the mission or amount of vehicles involved. But by asking questions indirectly, I can assume approximately six or more vehicles are typically dispatched on these route-clearing missions. Air support is not normal, but depending on the circumstances can be called in.
Jeremy takes up his position at the crow monitor and scans the road in front of him, reporting back anything unusual to the commander. Suddenly, the convoy comes to a halt. It’s daylight and there’s good visibility, there’s not a “red sky”, or sand storm, so he’s not sure what’s happening. Through the communication system Jeremy learns that there will be a dismount. Dismounts are done at the commander’s request and involve leaving the safety of the vehicles in a group as small as a squad (seven to nine) or as large as a platoon (twenty to thirty). This group will then conduct a ground search for IEDs (improvised explosive device), disturbed ground or trace wires back to any abode and set up a perimeter to ensure the safety of the remaining soldiers and others.
One of Sgt. Wade’s buddies tells him to stay in the vehicle. He shrugs it off and dismounts. Seconds later, as he comes into Jeremy’s sight, time seems to stop. First, there’s a flash, second a concussion, noise and the spray of debris. In shock, Jeremy attempts to regain his senses. When he does, he realizes an IED just went off and Sgt. Wade is gone – KIA (killed in action). His buddy in the vehicle is screaming something, not sure what it was, and Jeremy’s not sure he wants to know.
Jeremy realizes he has to continue to do his job. The communication headset in his ear is going crazy and he gets back online to finish the mission. When they return to FOB Arien, hours have passed, but Jeremy’s still numb. The soldiers are called to the DIFAC and one of the sergeants tells the group that if anyone needs to talk about what happened to let one of the other sergeants know.
Jeremy gets some chow and hits the bunk – there’s another mission in the morning. When he gets back to his tent, some of the guys are talking about the explosion. We talk about some of the mission, but not much of Sgt. Wade; he’s gone. Jeremy’s can’t sleep and is not sure if he ever will again. A 23-year-old man with a 3-year-old daughter; going home in just days and only stayed to help the incoming troops – gone.
A day later, Sgt. Wade’s company commander and 1st Sgt. arrive at the LZ to take the remains home. Jeremy watches as Sgt. Wade is loaded up into the bird and leaves the LZ. The helicopter immediately comes under fire from the enemy and takes multiple rounds. Sgt. Wade’s commander and 1st Sgt. are both hit, and Jeremy’s told they both survived, but have crippling wounds which may send them home as well. He wonders if the madness every ends.
There’s a small ceremony at the rear unit for Sgt. Wade, but Jeremy’s on a mission and not able to attend.
I believe Jeremy, upon his return to the U.S., will look up Sgt. Wade’s family and pay his respects. May we all keep Sgt. Wade and every soldier in the armed forces in our hearts and prayers; God Bless Sgt. Wade’s family.