TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Our profession is often paradoxical. We intimidate, yet we inspire. We deliver combat power to oppose our adversaries, yet also deliver hope to those in despair. I experienced such a paradox on a mission this week.
The plan was simple - deliver a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Afghanistan to provide combat power to our brothers and sisters engaged is Operations Resolute Support and Freedom Sentinel. Several U.S. Army soldiers accompanied the helicopter. A nine-month adventure, apart from their family and friends, awaited. I spoke with one Soldier, a major, prior to our flight from Germany to Afghanistan. His sadness about the absence from his family was juxtaposed by his thankfulness to spend hours talking with his wife and children on FaceTime during our Germany stop-over. The flight was uneventful and we successfully delivered our cargo to the combat zone. In the words of Defense Secretary James Mattis, we delivered intimidation to our adversaries. Yet, our mission would shift.
The aeromedical evacuation team met us in parking soon after we offloaded the Chinook. A swarm of activity ensued in the back of the airplane. Patient stanchions were installed, equipment was loaded and people scurried about.
Finally, three patients arrived. Two sustained combat injuries, one was shot in the arm and another was severely injured by a grenade that landed at his feet. It was a miracle he was still alive. At this point, our reason shifted. We were now an instrument of hope, or in the words of the Secretary, inspiration.
It was a long flight back to Germany. The winds were not in our favor. We asked for a waiver for our team of medics to extend beyond their crew duty day limit. There was a lot of time to reflect on our purpose as the medics tended to our injured comrades. The reflection was individual, but our resolve to deliver care to these individuals was communal. This resolve was palpable.
Nearly 10 hours after takeoff, we landed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. There, an ambulance along with another team of medics awaited our arrival. We helped the medics offload the patients and their equipment and soon they were en route to the hospital in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. We loaded up our bags on the crew bus and I noted the time—24 hours and 30 minutes had elapsed since we began our day.
We dropped our bags in our rooms and huddled together, beers in hand, to debrief the experience. We discussed the day's events. It was a long, difficult and emotional day, and the talk was cathartic.
Now, several days removed, it is clear. Experiences such as these connect us. They constitute an unbreakable bond between BEELiners. This mission illustrates what the black and yellow represent: commitment and community. That day, I saw unwavering commitment to our mission. Afterward, I saw a community of tired aviators connected by fierce resolve and professionalism. Today, I know I received more than I gave that day. I'm grateful for the ability to serve amongst my fellow BEELiners.