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February 10, 2008

All Of Humanity Is Our Tribe

AH-64 gun cameras capture a grueling air rescue after an ambush killed 5 soldiers and 1 Marine:

The Crew Chief operates the hoist, as he pulls a casualty into the aircraft. This is a one person operation that is difficult to perform when the casualty is in a SKED, especially when the casualty has the added weight of body armor and equipment. The Medic rides the hoist to the ground and back up, time and time again.

Imagine performing this operation 20-25 continuous times wearing Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), the Crew Chief continuing to advise the pilots of aircraft drift and rotor clearance as the mountain side is dangerously close. He ensures the hoist is ready for the next lift and watches the Medics hand and arm signals as he also directs the positioning of the aircraft. It becomes apparent this task is physically exhausting and difficult to master in routine conditions, let alone this punishing-unforgiving terrain at night.

The cabin of the aircraft becomes crowded, and the difficulty the Crew Chief and the Medic have maneuvering recovered personnel inside becomes increasingly challenging.

Dust-off has a crew of 4: Pilot, Copilot, Crew Chief, and Medic. During one of the earlier MEDEVAC missions the previous night, Dust-off, with its normal crew of 4, extracted 8 casualties, and 1 non-injured soldier in a single lift for a total of 13 on board. That operation was conducted under zero-lunar-illumination NVG conditions with no supplemental lighting used in the rear of the aircraft due to the tactical situation, adding dramatically to the level of difficulty.

Dust-off departed the pick-up (PZ) zone after 31 combined hours of medical evacuation, and without further incident.

The six men who were killed:

1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, 24, of Torrance, Calif.
Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, 23, of Parker, Kan
Spc. Sean K.A. Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, Calif.
Spc. Lester G. Roque, 23, of Torrance, Calif.
Pfc. Joseph M. Lancour, 21, of Swartz Creek, Mich.
Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, 28, of Troy, Mich.

Back home in the States, a young man learns his best friend will not be coming home:

At a Pentagon ceremony this month, 1st Lt. Walter Bryan Jackson became one of a handful of soldiers since 2001 to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest medal, for saving another soldier's life while himself wounded and under heavy fire in Iraq.

Jackson's award was overshadowed a week later, though, when he learned that his closest friend and West Point roommate, 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, had been killed in a mountain ambush in Afghanistan. Last weekend, Jackson was on stage in Los Angeles for his friend's eulogy. And on Friday, after a quiet Thanksgiving with his parents in Fairfax, Jackson packed his bag for another yearlong deployment, this time to lead a rocket platoon along South Korea's demilitarized zone.

"It's kind of hard to explain" how it feels to be part of a small segment of the U.S. population that is "bearing the brunt of the responsibilities" from today's conflicts, Jackson said as he waited for his flight at Dulles International Airport. "It doesn't affect society at large in the slightest. Life just goes on, and a lot of people . . . are more concerned about the price of gas than about soldiers fighting and dying," said Jackson, who has lost several comrades in the wars.

As young as he is, Lieutenant Jackson has already seen more than his share of action:

"We are a lot more serious," said the fresh-faced artillery officer, who turns 25 today, "because we know how short life is."

Within a few months of his graduation [from West Point], Jackson, the son of a naval officer, was sent to Iraq as an artillery officer for the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment. Based in the town of Hit in Iraq's western Anbar province, Jackson and his company commander were checking on Iraqis detained after a mortar attack when their Humvee almost rolled over, getting stuck in a ditch.

Standing guard with three other soldiers in an exposed area, Jackson spotted a few Iraqi men drive slowly by on scooters, apparently surveying the soldiers' location. A minute later, machine-gun fire tore into the soldiers from two directions, bringing down Jackson's commander, Capt. Eric Stainbrook, and 1st Sgt. David Sapp.

"A round hit me in the leg and kicked my leg out real hard," recalled Sapp, of Metter, Ga. "I fell over, and I felt another round hit my head, and my eyesight went out. Everything was black."

Lying on the ground, Sapp recalled, he began praying he wouldn't get shot again. "I was completely helpless, and I wanted to see my wife and daughters again."

Help came in the form of Jackson, who rushed to give Sapp first aid. But within seconds Jackson, too, was shot, in the left leg and hand. Slumped down, he nevertheless managed to return fire with his M-16 rifle.

Jackson tried to reload, but found the blood loss had left him too weak. "I didn't have the strength to pull the loading chamber back," he recalled. But he managed to stand up and help other soldiers carry Sapp to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle 30 feet away. "I knew how dire the situation was," he said. "If I didn't help out, someone else might get killed or wounded."

Sapp, whose arm and leg bones were shattered by bullets, was screaming in pain, both men recalled. In the Bradley, Jackson grasped Sapp's hand to comfort him, refusing medical aid for himself until they reached their base and he could no longer stand.

Sapp's wounds were life-threatening, and he was at risk of losing his limbs, doctors told him later.

"I don't think I would have lived" without the help of Jackson and another soldier, Sapp said in an interview this week as he underwent physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "I'm forever grateful to both of those guys," said Sapp, who is now legally blind in one eye but hopes to remain in the Army unless he is medically discharged.

Jackson was also evacuated to Walter Reed, where he has undergone more than a dozen surgeries, the latest four months ago. Still, he has gradually made almost a full recovery, and considers himself lucky.

So he was devastated to learn last week that such fortune had eluded his roommate, Ferrara.

Ferrara, 24, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was returning from a meeting with tribal leaders in a remote border region in eastern Afghanistan when his foot patrol of about 30 soldiers was ambushed along a narrow mountain path, Jackson said. Insurgents fired AK-47 assault rifles on the patrol from different directions, killing six American and three Afghan soldiers, and wounding 19, the most U.S. casualties of any single incident this year. Without room to maneuver, Ferrara, a nephew of New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff, and the rest were trapped.

"Matt was killed instantly," Jackson said of his roommate, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and promoted to captain. "The reason they didn't take more killed in action was a lot of the casualties rolled down the hill."

Jackson said he plans to stay on active duty, at least until his obligation ends in 2 1/2 years. "I feel I kind of owe it to the people who have already sacrificed," he said. Still, he said he wishes more Americans would appreciate how soldiers continue to volunteer and put their lives at risk. "We don't ask for very much," he said.

Sometimes when I see the lunacy in Berkeley, or that fool of a mayor in Toledo playing at being a human being, I wonder why anyone would step forward to defend this nation? But then I read stories like this one:

I am a Marine Corps dad who picked up my son from the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot at Parris Island on Jan. 25. I had no idea what was in store for him when he came home to Columbus.

Upon our return, we have witnessed a gratitude from the people of Columbus that we did not expect. Last Sunday, my son, Pvt. Tyler Allen Leavitt, put on his dress-blue uniform for church to visit those who have prayed for him during the tough training that Marines must endure for the honor of being called a United States Marine.

During this "victory tour," Tyler has witnessed a grateful nation through the awesome, intimate hand of fellowship from the people of Columbus.

Read how the good people of Columbus, Ohio honored the service of a newly minted young Marine. It's a day brightener.

They get it. They really get it. This nation will never fail so long as we have people like the citizens of Columbus, Ohio and like Linda Ferrara; mother to four soldiers serving this country in the United States Army. And First Lieutenant Matthew C. Ferrara, killed November 9th, in Nurastan Province, Afghanistan.

May light perpetual shine upon him.

Some people don't think that we have to fight just yet,
that we can wait and the crazies will go away
and not harm our little tribe.

They are already harming our little tribe.
All of humanity is our tribe.

- Linda Ferrara
Mother of 1LT Matthew C. Ferrara

Posted by Cassandra at February 10, 2008 04:51 PM

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America is at the mall. F-you, complacent Americans.

Posted by: Beth at February 12, 2008 02:22 PM

Don't hold back, Beth :)

Seriously, I feel that way a lot. This took me three (*&^ days, believe it or not. It just wouldn't come.

I kept trying, but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't get past that video. Some days I am just angry. This war is going to take a lot of getting over. But I look forward to that day, because that is why we're doing this.

It's not supposed to be this way.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2008 07:26 PM

I am deeply touched by all the Americans that have acknowledged my letter to the editor. I know that Pfc. Tyler Leavitt, USMC, is grateful as he trains to "fight the good fight". He has a special love for his country, the American people and our way of life.

I wrote this letter because I did not know how to say thank you to so many people in my community. I still can't grasp how this can be done. My best offer? I can personally lead an honorable life in return to all those who have served, serving now and our hero's that have given the final full measure of service.

Thank you for all your kind words. Once Tyler has access to his computer, I will forward all of the responses to the letter. He has no clue of the impact this letter has made. I know he will be moved.

One of my favorite quotes:
"If you don't stand behind our troops, please feel free to stand in front of them".

We must do all we can do in order to honor this brave generation of military Men and Women.

Thank you. God Bless America,
Andy Leavitt,

Posted by: Andy Leavitt at February 12, 2008 08:51 PM

You have already done us all a great service by raising that young man, sir. Please pass our thanks on to him.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 12, 2008 09:01 PM

There's two obstacles to comprehension of America's fight against the enemies of humanity.

One is the fact that the volunteer military for the US is so small that most of America does not know first hand or second hand or third hand the actual events going on in Baghdad. People know about traffic accidents and crime occuring half a continent away faster than they do about the actual events in Iraq and the actual actions done by America's military. And this is not just because of top down information blockage and funneling, but because of a lack of word of mouth, of 1 to 1 relationship building and communication.

If it wasn't for military blogs, I would not know, other than from Victor Davis Hanson and other civilian authors, about the people being helped in Iraq.

The second barrier is people believing in the wrong things because enemies of humanity helped make them believe. Either 1 on 1 or indirectly.

The first obstacle is independent of whether a specific American likes or hates the military, whether they believe in helping people or not. So long as they don't know anyone being helped or hear the story from the people themselves involved in Iraq, it is not real to them.

The second obstacle fills in the ignorance created by the first. If people don't know what is happening and if people can't see the problems created by the enemies of humanity, then by gosh the enemies of humanity will re-direct the concerns of America towards something Americans know about and can get behind in hating and attacking. Like the President, or government, or rich people, or corporations, or gas prices, or Record Oil Profits.

This is a real war. And like most real wars, there are no neutrals other than the dead. Everyone is a target, for something, limited only by resources and logistics.

A good analogy is a person too busy arguing with the neighbors about politics to notice that he has been stabbed multiple times.

Leadership is important and rare because people, regardless of the fact that they be Arabic, Persian, American, or European, won't lead themselves. Some people will refuse to take the initiative more than others, but in general and applicable to all human beings, people don't tend to exhibit leadership abilities in the modern world. Not for war certainly. This is why humans need leaders to put a fire in people's hearts and minds. To motivate them. To kick them out where they need to be, instead of where they want to be.

MarketAmerica is a pretty good example of the unique American philosophy of capitalism, risk taking, economic prosperity, and helping people and helping yourself as well. If the military was run like an arm of an Empire focused on cultural, economic, and military expansion, they would have much more of the 1 to 1 peer marketing abilities. Like MarketAmerica.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at February 12, 2008 11:47 PM

"All of humanity is our tribe."

I think that's good; I think that's right. It's easy to become pegged down by the tribal differences out here, so you are so focused on what is different (and troublesomely so) that you forget what is common.

Still, what matters is that brave men are resisting evil ones: and that they are putting themselves in danger to protect those weaker than themselves, to help those poorer than themselves, and to bring the light of education to places where war has driven it out.

Everywhere we go, we open schools; we dig wells; and we care for the beasts of the field, so that the poor of the earth will have a chance to live free of those who have other designs for them.

It's an honor, even in my small way, to be a part of what we do.

Posted by: Grim at February 13, 2008 12:15 AM

A particularly touching moment for me was hearing the Dustoff crew gently referring to the rescued troops as "heroes". Indeed they are.

I would also like to acknowledge the heroism of the Dustoff crews themselves - putting themselves in harm's way to rescue others, to save their lives.

A recent tv documentary on the first Dustoff service in Viet Nam mentioned that troops on the ground under withering fire tried to wave off the incoming unarmed Dustoff chopper to avoid it being shot down. The pilot said "not without your men". And that soon became the motto of the entire Dustoff service. I sense that officially or not, today's Dustoff crews live by that same credo. I salute them.

Posted by: in_awe at February 13, 2008 12:05 PM

You said it well.

I told someone else privately that this is one of those quiet things that just stays with you. I have not been able to get it out of my head.

They call others heroes. I wanted you all to see what we owe.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 13, 2008 12:20 PM

in awe, you are right - this video was created by someone at CJTF82 who witnessed the operation in order to acknowledge the heroism of the DUSTOFF crews.

Combined Joint Task Force 82 (CJTF-82) would like to honor these unsung heroes as our heroes of the week. This is our thank you from the Joint Task Force for all the things they do to protect us on a daily basis, to include the professionalism, selfless service and dedication to duty in our final hours, not just for us, but our Afghanistan National Army heroes as well.

"...selfless service and dedication to duty in our final hours"

Those last four words say it all.

Posted by: MaryAnn at February 13, 2008 04:36 PM