Friday, June 15, 2007

The Sun Also Sets...

Now all has been heard;
Here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
For this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13


There is a mystery to all things of life; of things meaningful and meaningless.

Doesn’t the sun look grand when it rises, just so that it can go down again? Does not a great victory include a great cost?

Our mission to Kajaki brought us further north into the Helmand Province than we had ever been before; almost the whole way to the Kajaki Reservoir. Not for the first time, we came because the people of the surrounding villages lived in submission to the Taliban and they lived in fear.

From its first moments, the great success of our mission was marred by the great loss of seven brave souls…taken down by the enemy after they safely delivered a company of men to the battlefield. As the night wore on it was clear that their sacrifice would not be in vain.

The enemy would not be victorious; by the time the sun rose, there was new hope that we had broken the enemy in Kajaki. We secured what we had and within the morning there was no fighting.

Only time will tell if our presence will free those under the Taliban’s grip permanently from their prison of fear and mistrust. However for those days that we were there, the people had the cloak of oppression lifted from their neck.

Time is a harsh but true judge of our hopes and in its mirror our actions will eventually reflect their true meaning.

Will time show us to be strong or afraid?

Will time prove we chose to pursue God and the truth, or our momentary whims?

The course of life can paint a picture of a hero; how did he handle difficult situations, did he pursue the truth and those things which bring glory to God? As time progresses, time will show whether or not our thoughts and actions put us into that category of man which we all idolize as a “hero.”

For most men, time will be the great arbiter of whether or not they can be our heroes.

It is a rare occasion when a man is asked in a moment to prove his mettle at the sacrifice of his life; but for those of us who have not faced that choice, it is up to us to learn from those who went before and seek what made them great, what element of truth they possessed.

Heroism is one of those inspirations that grabs you in the dark and asks you to move blindly into somewhere that you can’t know.

Much like the challenge of faith, if you cannot risk it all then you need not apply.

Though at times it might seem clear, heroism can be sublime. Heroism comes in many different forms. We glamorize and idolize it, reading about it in books and thinking about what we could or would do if challenged by something great. If challenged in a moment or a year…could I be said to have feared God and kept his commandments? .

Could I be said to have fulfilled the duty of man?

Heroism was seen in Kajaki, in the faces of my soldiers, pouring off of their helicopters and moving each to their places unsure of what the night would bring them. Heroism is found in the actions of a nation, sacrificing its wealth and its sons for what might be or could be freedom someday.

On June 6, I witnessed another type of heroism.

As Charlie Company was moving towards the enemy during the early morning hours, the squads and platoons that are made of those brave men who volunteer to serve came under heavy fire from the enemy.

Just as a company of heroes moved forward into town, the sun was beginning to rise and we neither knew of the crushing defeat that the Taliban would suffer on that day, or of the hero that would be borne to us in catastrophe.

SGT Charles Wyckoff was one of those men of whom you can feel confident in describing as a friend of all. His good nature not only made him easy to know, it made him one of those men whom you sought out. He was the man who you always knew would confidently do what needed to be done and would do it well.

On the sixth of June 2007, Sergeant Charles Wyckoff was the man who faced the question of heroism in the face and rose confidently to the challenge.

As the sun was rising, Sergeant Wyckoff displayed heroism in leading men to the village in the face of the enemy….he displayed uncommon courage when he died saving the lives of five men.

At the beginning of a day of great victory and great loss, I saw one man rise to the challenge and be given the grace to emerge a hero in a moment;

I suppose it is one of those clich├ęs that you read about during war…the uncommon serenity of the sun and its complete abandon to what has happened all around.

Your life has just been changed, but the sun and the world continue apace. Darkness and cool replace the crushing heat and light of the day.

As the sun continues to set, you are faced with the challenge of crystallizing what has happened and it turns out that you might find that the truth of those memories and those actions can only be contained in the hearts of those who seek to know…

…those who seek to know someone who has achieved our dream of heroism.

In Memoriam…

Sergeant Charles Wyckoff

Killed in Action 06 June 2007
Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Whole Bunch of Words...

One of my greatest challenges has been describing what Afghanistan is like. It is at once a country of raw beauty and stunning poverty...

The architecture is a mix between the ancient and the impoverished...

The land is a mixture between ragged mountains, stunning deserts and green river valleys...

As you can imagine, only a picture can describe this sort of a country.

My first mission was in the desert area of Ghorack; surrounded by high mountains. During this mission we held a number of meetings with the leaders. In the Afghan tradition, newcomers hold a "shura" at which they explain their aims and plans.

Our next mission was to Sangene.

Sangene is in the heart of poppy country, a plant for which Afghanistan is infamous.

Afghan poppy is a beautiful flower from which, and by quite an impressive amount of manual labor, much of the world's opium is derived. As you will notice, we arrived in Sangene right during the heart of poppy season.

Other pictures show different views of the city, looking to the Helmond River, and over the "Green Zone." The Green Zone is the area immediately around the river. It is highly irrigated and just about the only suitable area for agriculture. As the majority of economic activity is dependent on poppy and its cultivation, the majority of the people live in the Green Zone. The rest is just desert...

Finally, we visited Heyderabad. Upon our arrival in Heyderabad, the poppy flowers had run their course and it was now time to harvest the stalks.

In Heyderabad we spent much of our time talking, trying to convince the people that a brighter future lay with resisting the Taliban themselves and with the assistance of the Afghan Government. As you can imagine, us coming to "help" root out the Taliban is not what they want.

A Story Still in Progress...

Friends/Family/Acquaintances (Soon to Be Best Friends)…

Well, here I am in Kandahar Afghanistan and I find myself repeating the mistakes that I swore I wouldn’t repeat the last time the Army sent me to an exotic and exciting location; Tikrit, Iraq. That mistake is namely…losing touch with those who I care about and wish to keep in touch with.

I won’t make promises, I’ve tried that before, but hopefully with this tool I can keep in better touch with my friends and family. If nothing else, maybe you can get a glimpse of the wonders that await you on your next vacation to the Kandahar and Helmond Provinces of Afghanistan.

God has been very good to me while I have been here. My unit, the 1st Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (part of the historic 82nd Airborne Division) arrived in Afghanistan in late January 2007. We were supposed to head to the mountains of the East, around the town of Naray; closer to Chitral, Pakistan than basically anywhere else.

Within a day of our arrival, we were diverted to Kandahar Airfield, near the city of Kandahar. Kandahar is the “capital” of what some would call Pashtunistan. The Pashtuns are the largest tribe in the world, and the general inspiration for the Taliban. Their rivalry with the other ethnic groups that compose the rest of Afghanistan has dominated much of Afghan history.

As you could imagine, such a profound change meant profound change for both the men with whom I am privileged to serve as well as myself. Our arrival in Kandahar was neither planned nor expected, so it took quite a bit of poking and prodding to get ourselves a place to live and the equipment we needed.

With sufficient time and help, we were able to pronounce ourselves equipped and ready for the mission and we embarked on our first trip to the hinterlands, a region called Ghorack in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan.

During that mission, the enemy was dormant; he decided to watch us from within his blanket of protection: the civilians. Though we made contact on a regular basis with the population and we disrupted the enemy’s work, he chose to hide. This is the kind of work that is frustrating, because you know the enemy is there, but good nonetheless. When the enemy hides, you have the ability to bolster the poor people of the town and support the government.

Our next two missions, in Sangene and Heyderabad, Afghanistan were interrelated. Sangene had been a safe-haven for the Taliban and a big part of their scheme to intimidate and control the population. As part of the largest NATO Operation in Afghanistan, with the help of some helicopters and a Battalion of Infantrymen, we were able to retake the city and install the Afghan National Army as the real arbiters of power.

Finally, we visited the little hamlet of Heyderabad. Though along the road between Sangene and Gereshk, this little town was not too significant from a mapmaker’s perspective…well to a Western mapmaker. The Taliban had the area on their map and had again enjoyed sanctuary. Once again, with the introduction of an Airborne Infantry Battalion, there were a lot of Taliban homes that suddenly became available for new occupants.

We were glad to assist with spurring the real estate market.

Now we are back, and I can only thank the Lord for His goodness. I have had soldiers hurt, but He has given us great success and we have not have any permanent injuries or deaths.

My thanks to all who have kept us in your prayers.

As a final word for those with whom I have not kept in good touch, a word about my job; I am the commander of Charlie Company, and Infantry Company in the 1st Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment that is a part of the 82nd Airborne Division in the United States Army. An Infantry Company Team, as we call them when deployed, consists of about 140 men.

The men of my company are the “men on the ground.” The soldiers who compose Charlie Company are where the rubber meets the road; they search homes, capture terrorists, as well as befriend locals and secure doctors who help treat the sick.

As you can imagine, such a range of skills requires extreme discipline and the ability to be both aggressive and patient.

I have nothing but extreme respect for the soldiers of my company; they live in difficult physical conditions and have to do things that men are not supposed to have to do.
Thank you for checking in to my life via this blog. I hope to keep it up to date and to hear from you…