Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Veteran's Day in a combat zone

With the exception of the stars and stripes table coverings in the dining facility, you really wouldn’t notice this past Thursday was Veteran’s Day here on Forward Operating Base Salerno.   There really aren’t “days off” here for that matter, even Sundays require a steady presence of personnel if for no other purpose than base defense.   Securing a FOB of this size requires a considerable amount of planning and coordination. The Security Forces section of the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team assists with the everyday security needs of FOB Salerno by sending teams of men to positions such as tower guard and detainee operations on almost a daily basis.  You could think of this almost as a chore or even rent for our team’s tenant status as a portion of a larger brigade here on the FOB.

One friendly reminder of home came courtesy of an invitation from the Center Grove Middle School Social Studies Department to take part in a Skype conversation on Veteran’s Day.  (In addition to my duties as the Agricultural Marketing officer, I’ve also picked up the additional duty of Public Affairs Officer.  The Army is notorious for tasking individuals with additional assignments, I’ve already managed to be volun-told to take on three in the sense of Public Affairs, Postal Officer - guess they thought the Air Force guy could schedule air mail?, and finally a Contracting Officer Representative and Pay Agent. )  It didn’t take me long while looking over the team roster to decide who should represent our team in front of this crowd of nearly 600, including over 100 veterans.  Major Shane Robbins is just one example of the many professionals we have on this team.  Shane is the Superintendent of Monroe Central Schools in Randolph County, Indiana and also a father of two young boys.  He was more than eager to participate in the Skype call and was obviously a natural at speaking to middle-school aged students.  A few days prior to the event I coordinated with the school’s tech department to practice a test run on Skype and all went extremely smooth. 

Major Shane Robbins skyping back to CGMS
students on Veterans Day
With a nine and a half hour time difference, the 9AM EST Vet’s Day program actually took place here at 6:30PM.  As I briefed Major Robbins on his interview and told him that Rafael Sanchez from Channel 6 in Indianapolis would be conducting the interview, Shane responded that he and Rafael were actually good friends from Franklin College.   We connected to the event seamlessly and did a few sound checks before the actual speakers started, all was good to go.  To begin the event, all Veteran’s in attendance were introduced by name and service.  Following the official introductions was one of the most impressive displays of public speaking I’ve seen in my years here on this earth.  Kevin Rankel, the father of former Marine Sgt. John Rankel, gave a hair-raising description of his son’s life from his days there at Center Grove Middle School right up until his death this past June here in Afghanistan.  Mr. Rankel closed by asking all the students listening so attentively – “Could you have done what Kevin did, would you give your life so that other may live?”  There was hardly a dry eye in the audience by the time Mr. Rankel finished his speech, the same could be said for the folks here watching from 7,500 miles away. 

The event then turned toward the Skype conversation as Major Robbins was projected onto a giant screen overlooking the audience.  Rafael immediately drew laughs from the crowd as he asked Shane (a former Franklin College football player) for a prediction in this coming weekend’s matchup between Franklin and their archrival Hanover.  Shane responded that he was insulted Rafael even asked and that there was no question Franklin would win big.  Major Robbins then began to describe our team’s mission, the country of Afghanistan, and finally the daily duties a soldier in combat finds himself involved in.  The students were in awe that they were talking to someone live; 7,500 miles away with just a bit of an echo and a slight delay.  The final question was in reference to communication with family, and the very medium we were using to make this video call came to play.  With the assistance of Skype, Shane is actually able to tuck his children into bed on a fairly regular basis.  As the event came to an end, I let out a deep sigh of relief as I had been quite nervous the crowd of 600 might witness one of our frequent internet outages here on the FOB.  Fortunately this was not the case and all went smooth, perhaps it was meant to be.

This weekend I was reminded once again of the realities of where we are serving as I attended a memorial service for Corporal Andrew Hutchins.  Cpl Hutchins was performing tower guard duty- just as I described our security force members do in the beginning of this post, when he was struck by indirect fire.  The hardest part for me was hearing about the young, pregnant wife he left behind as they were both in their very young 20’s.  This is so often the case, a brand new father and husband stolen away from his family.  The crowd here at the FOB Salerno Chapel showed the incredible amount of respect Cpl Hutchins’ fellow soldiers had for him.  The chapel was filled from wall to wall with a standing room only crowd that spewed out into the overhang of the chapel entrance,

I’ve always enjoyed the many parades and other ceremonies I’ve taken part in over the past few years; however I can’t say I’ll ever remember a Vet’s Day more than this past year’s.  We are remembering so much more than the veteran on these days.  I will never forget the words John Rankel spoke nor can I imagine how difficult it must be for a 20 year old Ms. Hutchins to have to describe to her future child why he/she will have never met their father. 

Thank you all for your support, it’s days like Veteran’s Day that give our military members the support and drive to continue fighting the battles we find ourselves in almost daily.  God bless all our veterans, in particular Sgt John Rankel and Cpl Andrew Hutchins who will always mark Vet’s Day 2010 in my mind.

An overflow crowd waits outside of FOB Salerno Chapel during
a memorial service for fallen Corporal Andrew Hutchins


  1. will keep the Hutchins Family in our prayers. Thanks Bart. Love Skype!

  2. Thanks Bart! Cpl Hutchins will never be forgotten

  3. Sounds like you are in the right place Bart and doing a great job too! We pray every day for your safety and all the military personnel serving!

  4. Sounds like you're doing a great job buddy! I think the addiotional duties that have been assigned to you are right up your alley. Keep up the good work.