Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Chapter Closed

Captain Randy Cuyler, Major Gulley, and I enjoy a cigar to commemorate the news of the day

I'll be the first to admit that biology was never my strong suit during my Purdue years. But, as luck would have it, at least six credits in the despicable subject area were mandatory for any  students coming out of the College of Agriculture. There were the countless lectures, the recitation periods where it was more interesting to watch paint chips fall from the dilapidated walls of Lilly Hall, and last but not least the weekly laboratory classes that always seemed to fall at the most inopportune times.

Ironically enough, of all the courses I squeaked through during my proud six years on campus, it is a Biology 111 lab lesson that still to this day commands my most vivid recollection of life at Purdue. It wasn't because of any thwarted disaster in my mixing of chemicals (that's another story), or even the gorgeous Chi Omega that sat two rows in front of me, but rather because of an event that occurred 800 miles away in New York City.

Merely uttering the words Pearl Harbor, Kennedy, and Apollo instantly takes millions of Americans back to the exact place they were during the time of these world-changing events. September 11th, 2001 provided those of us born after 1970 with a new trigger word of our own: 9/11. Each time I hear those words, I instantly return to that dreaded 7:30AM Tuesday morning Biology laboratory.

Looking back on that day, nearly a decade later, I'm still amazed at how much those few hours of carnage changed my life. In September of 2001, I was a freshman with every intention of putting in my four years of college and simply returning to life on the farm. After witnessing what I had seen on 9/11, the call to serve soon grew too strong to resist. Following my sophomore year at Purdue, I chose to take a year off and enlist in the Air National Guard.

Now, in the interest of time, please sit shotgun in my Delorean and follow me nine and a half years into the future to May 2, 2011. For those of you who feel the need to quantify, we just traveled 3,520 days...

Only 197 miles separate Khowst and Abbottabad
As the threat level in the Khowst Province has been steadily increasing in recent weeks, commanders at the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team issued the order to staff our Tactical Operations Center with a duty officer and systems monitor 24/7 until further notice. Not necessarily music to anyone's ears, but oh well- it wasn't as if any of us had a hot date this past weekend.

My shift happened to fall from midnight to 4AM Monday morning, Murphy's law strikes again. After Skyping and trying my darndest to get ahold of my niece Libby to bid congratulations on her First Communion, I made my way down to the office armed with an arsenal of reading material certain to keep even the strongest of narcoleptics awake. As the early morning hours crawled by, I was actually quite fortunate to not be back in the barracks, trying to sleep through the barrage of cannon fire resonating throughout the area. A few minutes past 4AM, I made my way back to the barracks and made a beeline for my pillow. Just as I had slipped into a picturesque REM stage of sleep, the lights of the bay were turned on and shouts of "Bin Laden's dead" rang throughout our sleeping quarters. As I was still quite groggy, I'm not certain the magnitude of the message really hit at that point.  It wasn't until several hours later, upon reading the flood of emails and Facebook posts that had come in from friends across the globe; that I really grasped what an extraordinary event had just occurred.

Global Response
One of the first emails I opened that morning stated - Just thought you should know that fireworks are going off in Texas right now upon the news of Bin Laden's death. Another from dear friends in Chicago read simply  praying for your safety. Several other thoughtful and congratulatory messages were waiting for me as I awoke, and all were very much appreciated. One of my favorite emails of the day, from a family friend in France, read- Bravo for the special forces for Ben Laden elimination. After scouring through emails, I decided to feed the beast and started to browse through a few news outlet websites. All of the reports were very vague still at this point, aside from confirming the kill; specifics were quite scarce.

As I read through an article in the Wall Street Journal, I noticed a lump starting to develop in my throat.

“This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The U.S. has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will 
be done.”

Those words, spoken by our 43rd President- George W. Bush, were enough to push me over the edge. Between the emails, Facebook posts, and text messages from friends; an overwhelming sense of patriotism had just overtaken me as I read the thoughts of a man who dedicated his entire presidency to ensuring another tragedy such as 9/11 would never again occur. If you've read Decision Points, you're well aware of the tremendous amount of time and resources the former leader of the free world put into eliminating Osama Bin Laden. Tears of joy started to stream down my cheeks as I read his words and tried to grasp how much this news must have meant to him; to know that his successor saw the issue critical enough to continue the pursuit.

Partisan Nonsense
After finally removing myself from the intravenous of information that is my laptop, I journeyed back to the office in an effort to gauge the morale levels amongst team members. To say the mood was blissful would be a drastic understatement, the men were as giddy as I've ever seen. Of course timing is everything, so the twenty boxes full of highly desired goodies (DVD's, Starbucks, Axe bodywash) that the kind folks at Jay County High School sent Major Jeremy Gulley didn't dampen anybody's spirits either.

I think the Ugandans might have even been more excited
than many Americans here on FOB Salerno. My good friend
Innocent Mwakatabu joined the festivities as well.
I hesitate to compare parts of this deployment to scenes in Band of Brothers, but on several occasions Monday I couldn't help but wonder if our feelings of elation might have been similar to that those of our predecessors experienced when learning of Hitler's suicide and the pending German surrender. In both cases, there was cause for great celebration but also cause for concern and the dire need to avoid complacency. In WWII, the men knew there was still a battle on the Pacific front; today we know all too well that there are still many bad actors in the world who would love for the defenders of freedom to sit their shields down- even if just a few minutes.

The scenes on television throughout the day were truly inspiring, reminiscent to the displays of patriotism seen last in the days following 9/11/01. The scenes of revelers in Washington DC, where it seems in recent times they have even started requiring Republicans and Democrats to live in separate neighborhoods, really solidified this day's significance in history to me. Eugene Johnson summed up the need to give politics a break for the day in this quote from the Washington Post's PostPartisan blog- 

"This really is one of those moments when there are no red states or blue states, just United States; no MoveOn progressives or Tea Party conservatives, just Americans. Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order. We got him."

There has already been much criticism of the President for his handling of the situation, conspiracy theories regarding the burial at sea, and even criticism for shooting an unarmed man. Today when I read that none other than the peace-promoting Dalai Lama came dangerously close to "supporting" the decision to take Bin Laden out, I was quite comforted that even he would find it a justifiable measure.

War on Terror
As a few of us gathered Monday evening to enjoy a cigar and commemorate the occasion, the conversation of "being where this all started" came up. It was mind-boggling to ponder the fact that we were sitting in Eastern Afghanistan, the very region where Osama Bin Laden morbidly enjoyed the events of September 11th, 2001.

As Bin Laden had now been eliminated, it was very interesting to think that he was the man responsible for all of us currently finding ourselves in Afghanistan. Several of the men gathered that evening have wives and multiple children at home, getting by with "life without Dad" as he is busy defending their freedoms. But what is the cost of that freedom? NATO countries (the United States more so than others) have paid heavily in blood (2444 Coalition casualties since 2001) and also actual dollars (over $400 billion US). 

Each time I travel and go through TSA screening at the airport, I can't think of how pleasant traveling was before Bin Laden (BBL). How many other facets of your life have changed in the last decade because of that wretched man? Ask any pilot you know and warning- you might encounter some choice words. The different security measures required to even enter a flight training program create an enormous barrier to entry to many. 

By eliminating Bin Laden, nearly ten years later, we have shown our perseverance and desire to return to BBL times. During the raid, countless laptop computers and hard drives filled with data were collected. Though only time will tell the actual value of the data to intelligence communities, one could only assume that the lead shriner of the Al Qaeda circus was controlling most of the rings. Because of the resolve shown by the American people, through two separate presidential administrations, the future dividends paid out could help us return to some sort of normalcy.

So yes, with the death of Osama Bin Laden a chapter in the War on Terror has closed; but the real question freedom-loving individuals around the globe have to ask themselves is: when will this book end?

Funny to think that only 12 days earlier Admiral Mullen (center of image, standing with tie and no jacket) was
here on FOB Salerno, learning about life on the farm - Photo released by the White House


  1. Bart, I loved this entry! Incredibly well said, and quite interesting to hear from your perspective. Keep safe! :)

  2. Very well written, Bart! I was in my dreaded Calculus III class the morning of the 9/11 attacks. I remember it vividly like it was yesterday. I really enjoyed reading about your perspective on all of this and found it to be a breath of fresh air amongst all the main stream media. Keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks for the post Bart. very well said. And Thank you for all your hard work over there! Now get back here!

  4. Wow this is a great moving post that touches and gives hope to people who lost the loved ones as result of the terror activies of deceased Osama that Justice delayed was not Justice denied!