I found myself a family in Afghanistan. They’re a smellier, more foul mouthed, definitely more male version, than my family back home, but they’ll do just fine. Being one of three girls in my immediate family and one of a gaggle of mostly female grandchildren, I always secretly longed for a big brother, well doesn’t God have a funny sense of humor, now I have about 25 of them…who are armed and dangerous.
I arrived in Afghanistan on September 30 and on October 31 I met some G Co. More than a thousand soldiers come in our center’s doors everyday, but these guys, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment, Ghost Company, (G Co for short) there is just something about them, like a mold that rapidly grows and seems annoying at first but then you realize it's really penicillin that's amazingly awesome and saves lives.
|Gentry and Hidalgo obviously up to no good on Halloween|
|Cindy and "Butter Bar" Hidalgo on Halloween|
It all started when I spotted a wounded warrior who was leaning on crutches looking bored out of his mind, I told him I could offer him a seat if he wanted to volunteer behind the desk. He took the bait, finding nothing else remotely entertaining to do and became our first G Co volunteer. That was Gentry. Then Hidalgo spotted Gentry behind the desk and wondered what he was doing. I quickly roped him in as well and then Cooper soon followed too. Hawes, although in H Co, still belongs in the cool kid group because I met him on Halloween with the rest of the guys. Then although they didn’t volunteer, Perez, Grover and some others started hanging around the USO. These guys were the first troops that made me laugh harder than anyone I had met out here. They will do anything I ask of them, although making sure to give me a hard time first, then eventually doing it. They make fun of me, and get it right back. They are also fiercely protective, even if they have fun watching me squirm when a creeper approaches. It was like having instant brothers I never knew I wanted. All my coworkers came to know the guys and Cindy and Sarah York became close with the crew as well.
|Cooper picking on me|
Well because soldiers gossip more than high school girls, word must have gone around that the USO has free internet, delicious coffee and some employees with soft spots for G Co and when some more G Co came through for various reasons like stryker maintenance, going on leave, or detainee guard I met some more of the boys: Ortega, Young, Moser, Shaw, Irons, Dalrymple, MacDonald (H Co), Morgan, Sgt V and Garcia to name a few. They were all like the rest, hilarious, inappropriate, brave, funny, exciting, ridiculous guys. Then there were our "voluntolds" James, Christiansen, Knutson, and Gaultier, who provided endless entertainment during their stay. Later on I met Runkle, Goff, Cole and Thompson. I've become closer with some than others, but with G Co I've had countless DFAC meals, Catchphrase nights, Green Bean runs, Egyptian Rat Screw games and even Young and Moser acted in a video for my friend back home.
|Cooper picking on York|
Just like family, they were there for me after Hidalgo’s death. My heart swelled the day after I attended his ramp and at four different times G Co guys came to the USO with heavy hearts but determined souls to break the news to me. Much to their relief, I already knew. As I embraced each one I thanked God for the support system he had given me. Throughout the months the guys have talked to me and made me smile with memories of Hildago and pieces of stories I never knew. These stories are reassurances to me that this great guy would never be forgotten in any of our minds, and that his example lives on in all of them.
|Hawes wearing my sweater, lil snug, no?|
As I’ve showcased, I have a strong attachment to “my boys.” Since I arrived at KAF there’s always been one or more here at any given time to annoy, I mean, entertain me. Almost 7 months I’ve known these guys. Now they are back at KAF one last time to redeploy (go back to Germany). A couple days before their arrival Hawes was introducing me to some H Co and he said, “Don’t bother trying to impress her, G Co is her favorite.”
I was so disappointed (okay maybe a lil more than that, pretty much devastated) when I found out their date had been pushed back and I would only get to spend a few days with them before I left for my vacation to come home. I’d have to leave one family for another.
|Young and I eating homemade cookies Bonnie Mattas sent the boys|
They’re leaving to go back to their lives. Although I’m sure I’ll meet other soldiers who will become my friends, none will compare to G Co. I want for them the absolute best, because they deserve it. They’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries and death this deployment, but they are all incredibly strong men. All the words in the world couldn’t thank them enough for their service to their country, the sacrifices they have made, the things they have had to endure, and what their friendship has meant to me, but I thought I’d give it a shot. When I took this job I thought of how much I’d give, I never realized how much I would get. I picture that scene in The Blindside where one of her rich friends says, “You’re changing that boy’s life.” She immediately responds, “No, he’s changing mine.”
As I’m sure with all the friendships one makes throughout life, some might become life long friends that see me through anything, and some of them will drift away and just become names I see on my Facebook feed. But even then, I won’t be able to keep myself from cracking a smile. Because although I may forget specific conversations, or not know their current situation, I’ll never forget the way my boys made me feel…like I wasn’t half way across the world from my family, they were right here.