30 September 2012

Behind the headlines

This is the story: Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban's Reach

This is my story...

I received a Facebook message from Randy (one of my best friends who started working for the USO the same day I did, and worked in Kuwait, Kandahar with me, and then Camp Leatherneck)

"As i walk up to the uso so does he and the big voice comes on for opp lockdown. bastion is currently under attack. we can see the helicopters firing. there are big fires on that side of base that we can see glowing. nuts. not like kaf. they just called all off duty fire fighters to their stations."

At this point a Google search turns up nothing.  The world doesn't know yet.  But I do.  I know my friend's base is getting attacked, and she is there, with only one other USO staffer, locked in a tent, unarmed.

Everything else quickly becomes fuzz.  Everyone's updates featuring pictures of the food they made, and the people they saw are insignificant blips.  They keep updating, they keep popping up, unaware of the attack raging half a world away.

Randy's message was sent to our close group of former and current USO girls from KAF.  The conversation right before Randy's message was laughing at one friend's drunken Facebook ramblings about another friend's relationship.

"update. there are people in the wire in uniform - taliban members. everyone is to report to accomodations and stay inside. small arms fire and cobras firing rounds. fires have subsided. Marines have started filing to their vehicles in full gear."

News outlets begin updating their sites with brief 3 paragraph long stories about the attack.

Then her messages stop. 

We're all familiar why.  It's a blackout.  To my understanding with 30,000 plus people KAF never had ordered blackouts because they would be too difficult to enforce, but at smaller bases when there are deaths they order a blackout.  They want to ensure there is time to inform the next of kin before someone posts it on Facebook.  I couldn't think of a worse way to find out about the death of a loved one than Facebook, but it happens.  I experienced my first black out at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.  A Captain came quickly pacing into our USO tent, asked for the manager and then quietly, but with forceful seriousness, told me to disconnect the internet and phones until further notice.

One night has passed since Randy's first message and I'm sitting between my parents in my dad's truck on a 4 hour trip to my aunt's house checking my Facebook, USAToday, FoxNews, and Yahoo News every 10 minutes. 

We joke in our Facebook messages to each other to lighten the mood, only our jokes wouldn't be funny to most.  Randy was supposed to travel back to the states in a few days, and Erin lives in Dubai.  We discuss forming new identities for them since the Middle East isn't exactly keen on Americans at that moment.  These two blonde beauties, could they be French?  South African maybe?  We all laugh thinking about Randy with a head scarf and her trademark leggings on.

I talk to Randy's mom for a half an hour that night trying to reassure her.  There's a lot we don't tell our parents while in Afghanistan, but it's a little hard to hide when it's all over the news.  I feel for her mom.  Being on this side of the globe now, I get how my family must have felt. Although, I'm not sure if I'm worried more or less having been there.

The attack had ceased, Randy and her coworker were fine, and her flight was rebooked.

"oh how i am thrilled that you girls are home safe and sound. however it would be nice to have some friends to be in lockdown with"

Randy returned to America safely a few days later...and Erin flew into Camp Leatherneck.

I've never been in a battle, so I can not even begin to comprehend the bond troops have when their lives are in one another's hands.  But when you have your face in the dirt right next to a girl after feeling the ground shake beneath you from an incoming rocket, it forms a special bond. (That was during Megan's going away party, the Taliban sure know how to send us off with a bang).

We all met in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Now we're in Colorado, DC, PA, WV, Dubai (with trips to Afghanistan), and NC but soon to be England.  We're spread across the country and spread across continents, but at a moment's notice we can all be there for one another.

Most of the headlines  wrote about Prince Harry's safety or questioning the drawdown tactics.  Prince Harry wasn't my concern, Randy was.  Thankfully she was fine, because of the bravery and sacrifice of the military men and women defending the base.

United States Marines Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, 40, and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, 27, were killed in the attack on Camp Leatherneck on September 15, 2012.

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