There can be no reward large enough for these sacrifices. Are we making a difference with our blood and pain? Do they even care? I know we have talked about this but I can't talk to these guys here and I find heaviness in the center of my chest. “These questions I emailed to my platoon sergeant and friend Kevin Kj*******.
A few days earlier I had been on a mission deep in the Zerkoh valley looking for insurgents and trying to trap a bomb/IED maker in a cordon and search. While we were closing the gap the satellite radio piped up…”Clear this freq, TIC [troops in contact] in progress.” This is a message that never fails to get everyone’s attention. The caller began with a medical evacuation call or 9-line as we call it. This gives the medical team all the necessary information to start prioritizing the number of patients and care they may need.
“Be advised we have two KIAs and six WIAs for immediate dust off over..”
The radio dialog continued to follow and battle track the events of the firefight in real time as we stood by and wished we could help our brothers. It is an awful thing to hear, like 9-11 dispatching, knowing you cannot do anything to assist, and somewhere, someone has paid the ultimate price.
One of our FOBs to our south had been in contact with the enemy for over seven hours by the time this call went out. Using a Predator drone, we listened to the controllers as they followed a group of the enemy back to their safe house.
Only this time, there was nothing safe about it.
As the enemy entered the mud hut compound the drone fired a Hellfire missile into the center of the building and blew it apart. Then, as the enemy gathered around the ruin from adjoining buildings the combat air controller called in the A-10 Thunderbolts and finished the job. Dropping first a five hundred, and then, one thousand pound bombs they flattened the whole compound.
I can remember visualizing this encounter as it happened. In my mind, I was jumping up n’ down cheering as those bastards ran around, on fire, and screaming in pain…and I liked it. One or more of our guys had been injured or killed and I wanted them to suffer, I wanted to vent some of my rage for a year of loss and struggle, for the endless hours of boredom and the missions that never seem to end. For having to walk across one big minefield called Afghanistan and for daring to dream of a life after all this. And now, to know one of us will never have that opportunity,
We finished our mission then returned to base to begin our pre-combat checks for a convoy run to Herat. While we were there the message came that one of our men was killed during the battle we had listened to that morning. Who was it? They had not been able to advise the next of kin yet so we waited for the rest of the day to find out. A very long day…you asked yourself who it could be. Who was down there? Then you think of your buddies and you mentally choose who you don’t want to be dead. This horrible, mental hopscotch played round in my mind for a long while. Then you find yourself picking someone and you feel guilty for this too, cause without knowing it, you may be hexing someone else….boonie grunt voodoo.
As the time continued to drag on I kept getting this gnawing ache. This pain that seemed to travel from my chest down to my stomach and then lodged along my spine where it tickled every fiber of my body. I couldn’t figure out what it was and being a paramedic, you’re always diagnosing you own ailments along with everyone else’s. I walked from one end of the compound to the other, went up to the roof and thought about it some more, tried to use all my skills and past experiences all to no avail.
Then it hit me, like a blow from a sledgehammer, I was afraid.
The sour taste in my mouth and the restless angst I couldn’t control was fear. I don’t know if I have ever been afraid. Not like this. It was like some alien, unknown feeling I have never experienced and I couldn’t shake it. I walked among my friends and fellow soldiers at my base I wondered if they could see, if they knew what I was feeling. I was hesitant to look them in the eye. I couldn’t talk to them or they may think I wouldn’t be able to do my job. It teased my brain with thoughts of missing some important sign of an ambush or noticing a small detail like all the children were missing from the area we’re working. It continued throughout the day and into the night and all I could think of was “My God I can’t spend the rest of this tour feeling this way…I’ll go nuts.” While I was on guard I thought I could feel the stares of the enemy from every dark corner and every building as they plotted my demise. It was a long time before I slept that night.
The next day, after a pitiful night tossing and turning, I knew what had to be done. I put myself in the gunner position on the next five day mission into the heart of Taliban country. I knew I had to beat this, this spectral ghost of soldiers past, or I would be an ineffective leader of my men.
As we prepped for this mission the word came down to us that Thomas “Doc” Stone, one of our medics, had been killed along with a Canadian soldier and another of our men had been injured.
Sometime in the early morning hours the enemy attacked their FOB with a heavy barrage of RPGs, mortars, and small arms fire. The base had not been occupied very long and the team did not have very long to build up defensive positions. Sometime during the battle one of our men, while moving from one position to another, was shot in the face. Another soldier began treating him and called for a medic. As always “Stoney” heard the call and got up from his covered position to aid the wounded man. He was struck multiple times by small arms fire and died within a few feet of the man he tried to save.
As I have been trying to make sense of the loss of my friend. I remember Thomas “Doc” Stone as an infantryman, a medic and a hard charging soldier of the finest kind. We worked together on a number of missions throughout the western area of Afghanistan and time after time he had proven not only his medical knowledge but his endless supply of optimism and empathy for the people of this country. Every time we would stop our convoys he would step out with candy and his medical bag to work with the children or adults that may need what care he could provide.
Doc by no means was new to the effects of war. He was 52 years old and had a prior tour of duty in Vietnam and was currently on his third tour in Afghanistan. Capt. Jeff Roosevelt who served with Stone on his second tour, in 2004 said
The loss of a man like Stoney affects us all but, his unrelenting drive to help others and to try and make some sense of this war exemplifies the honor, the integrity, and the love one man can show for his brothers.
God speed Doc, we love you too.
I can lose a friend like that by my death but not by his. -----George Bernard Shaw