Moments of Silence, Near and Far

 

151003-F-QU482-010On Saturday past I attended the second-to-last game of the season for the Minnesota Twins. They lost the game and their chance at a wild-card post season berth.

Before the game began, there was an announcement for a moment of silence for the victims of the Umpqua Community College shootings. It was a traditional public gesture, and as is right and proper the attendees stood and were dutifully silent as the moment passed. I stood with the crowd, but I admit my mind was not with that tragedy.

About two hours after the Umpqua shootings, a United States Air Force C-130 transport aircraft crashed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. All on board the aircraft were killed: four aircrew members, two security force Airmen, and five military contractors. Two Afghans were killed on the ground. The aircraft was destroyed at a property loss of approximately 68 million dollars. Preliminary statements from the Air Force indicate that the aircraft crashed during a night take-off from the Jalalabad Airfield. The crew were members of the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron operating out of Bagram, Afghanistan.

In 2007, I served as commander of the 774th. Operating in a country that lacks a basic infrastructure of rail or paved roads requires an alternative method of re-supply. Helicopters and C-130 transport aircraft are well suited for the short and minimally improved airstrips around the country. These forward air bases support the supply chain for our ground troops. Combining the ground-to-air threat, poor air-to-air communications structure, frequent severe weather, and mountainous terrain, it is a very challenging flying environment. Crews fly round the clock and every day of the year. Likewise, the maintenance crews worked extraordinarily hard to keep the operation running.

Before 2007, I’d deployed several times as aircrew and was well familiar with the challenges. Although our crews and staff were highly experienced, there was little ease of familiarity, especially with night operations. Several of the short airstrips reduced the allowable margin of error to very near the limits for wartime operations. We were very, very careful.

Within the matrix of probable risks, I knew that loss of an aircraft and crew would be the toughest thing we could face. I knew that such an event, if attributed to error, would invite scrutiny of records, performance, prioritization, processes, procedures, and every decision even remotely related to the event. Should it come to pass, I knew that I would have to lead the squadron through the devastating loss while responding to the multiple forensic and administrative processes well established in the USAF. These were things that I knew and dreaded, and they had my attention without respite.

Night increased the risk. On those occasions when I was awoken unexpectedly by a flashlight and the shaking of my shoulder, there was immediate adrenaline and then wakefulness for hours afterward. These were emergencies that needed attention, but never the feared disaster. Like all the other 774th commanders before me, I arrived and I left with little to note other than a routine and successful deployment. Whatever modest feelings of satisfaction I may have had were over-matched by relief and exhaustion.

Then last week it finally happened, and chain of institutional processes for dealing with disaster commenced. The squadron held a memorial, including a moment of silence in that place so far away, then continued its operations. At some point, months in the future, the formal investigation will be complete. There will be a narrative of lessons learned and likely some new emphasis and insights in procedures.

For the families, the commander and staff, and the fellow service members, these institutional closures will not so readily answer their questions or bind up their wounds.

That is what was on my mind as I stood.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Cierra Presentado)

Published in Foreign Policy, General, Military
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There are 12 comments.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    A tragic loss.  Thanks for reporting so we can mourn too.

    • #1
  2. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I recommend you throw a germane pic above the fold. I bypassed this because I thought it was a sports post.

    • #2
  3. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Godspeed. I know how just a small part of this goes. I cannot imagine the rest.

    • #3
  4. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Thank you for this tribute Brian. So many brave men and women in our Armed Forces. Thank you.

    • #4
  5. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    All of those lost are in my prayers. God Bless those who serve.

    • #5
  6. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    I imagine that you will always be a part of the 774th. Please accept my condolences on your loss.

    • #6
  7. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Every minute of service, every sacrifice, every loss anywhere and everywhere by our armed services gives me pause, reflection and gratefulness –  this needed to be told. I pause when I hear air force jets heading out to the Gulf, every morning and afternoon, knowing they are doing so for love and protection of our great country.  Thank you for your service.  I pray every morning and night for our troops to be safe and return home, and for peace.

    • #7
  8. Big John Member
    Big John
    @AllanRutter

    Thanks for telling their story so powerfully.

    • #8
  9. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Brian,

    Thank you for giving me insight into the difficulties and dangers of suppling outposts. As a civilian I’ve had only a vague understanding. Prayers for those who died, their families, friends, and those who serve with them.

    • #9
  10. Rob Long Editor
    Rob Long
    @RobLong

    Ball Diamond Ball:I recommend you throw a germane pic above the fold.I bypassed this because I thought it was a sports post.

    Thanks for this suggestion.  I almost did, too.

    What a moving post.

    • #10
  11. Brian Wyneken Member
    Brian Wyneken
    @BrianWyneken

    Rob Long:

    Ball Diamond Ball:I recommend you throw a germane pic above the fold.I bypassed this because I thought it was a sports post.

    Thanks for this suggestion. I almost did, too.

    What a moving post.

    Thank you for the comment and the suggestion. One of the Ricochet editors did me the kindness of selecting exactly the right photo to attach to this post.

    • #11
  12. Chuck Enfield Inactive
    Chuck Enfield
    @ChuckEnfield

    Thank you Brian.

    • #12
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