Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ramps and Colors

From where I stood on the flight line, I could see into the cavernous empty cargo bay of the C-17. Its interior lights illuminated the rows of Special Forces soldiers extending towards me from the base of the ramp, two ranks on each side facing each other forming a 200 foot corridor. To my left a color guard stood a parade rest trying to keep the staffs vertical as the warm stiff breeze tugged at the flags making the fabric ripple and snap. To my right, the line of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians stretched out and disappeared into the darkness. Past the point where it was swallowed by the night, I knew this line stretched out in a circuitous route for more than a mile and a half on both sides of the street as service members lined up to pay their final respects to two Special Forces soldiers killed by a roadside bomb on Friday.

As we stood a parade rest waiting, my mind wandered. I marveled at the gargantuan size of the aircraft in front of me. I wondered how many bundles of humanitarian aid it had dropped over the past 3 years, how many troops it had carried into theater, and how many of these sorrowful trips it had made back out. A C-130 was parked nearby, and I knew that out in the darkness, the flight line was packed full of A-10s, EA-6s, CH-47s, UH-60s, AH-64s, and who knew what else. The firepower and cargo capacity represented was staggering.

Above the whine of the C-17's APU, I could still hear the flags snapping in the wind. Then, as the casket bearing vehicles approached the entrance of the airfield, the blue light of the MPs vehicle began to flash casting a kind of macbre strobe light effect over the long line of troops to my right. To my left, the generator powered light sets were illuminated casting giant shadows towards the vehicles carrying their sorrowfully honored consignment. As the vehicles approached, the line of troops to my right rippled as each in turn rendered tribute to those who passed by beneath the flags. As I dropped my salute, the vehicles had come to rest at the base of the twin ranked corridor. Pall bears moved forward to execute their privileged duty with a solemn crispness as the color guard moved forward through the corridor. In the methodical, halting footsteps used only in these somber settings, the pall bearers slipped between the twin ranks of soldiers towards the ramp of the aircraft and disappeared from my view.

The colors, moving at a full pace had ascended the ramp and halted as I measured the progress of the pall bearers by the ripple of honors being rendered by the former comrades of those making their final journey home. It struck me that during the indeterminate amount of time that it took the slow wave of salutes to reach the ramp of the aircraft, the stiff warm breeze from the north pushed our national colors straight out across the top of the ramp, the interior cabin lights illuminating them from behind.

Eventually the pall bearers rose from between the ranks of soldiers, slid past the color guard into the aircraft and disappeared from view leaving all eyes focused on the boldly illuminated American flag. Having completed their duty, the pall bearers moved to the ramp and followed the colorguard as it descended again towards the ranks of soldiers, struggling to maintain bearing and cadence as the wind angrily tugged at the extended fabric they carried.

It seems to me now, that this war will be won not by virtue of our nations ability to place these gargantuan aircraft, and the vast numbers of it's deadly cousins on the ground and in the skies over this desolate land, nor in the ability to house, arm and sustain the thousands of servicemen and women who had just rendered final honors to these heroes here in this remote and barren country. It will not be won solely by the actions of those who ascended that ramp beneath their nation's colors, though God knows they gave more than any has a right to ask, but by the heart of those who carry the colors back down the ramp, into the darkness of this hostile country having just said a final farewell to friends.

This war will be won through the knowledge that the warrior cannot be separated from the human, that we can no longer fight wars by separating all that is decent and humane from our actions in relentless destruction of those who mean us harm, but rather by the embodiment of decency and humanity in our warrior ethos in order to secure victory through peace.

The papers and the televisions will keep reporting the unfortunate and heart-rending loss of American life here in these distant lands like perverse box scores long after the American public or the world at large has become desensitized, but it will be that which is unquantifiable, that which comes from the recesses of the American warrior's heart which sparks and sustains beyond all reasonable standards, the willingness to sacrifice for the sustainment of freedom that will eventually win a long forgotten peace in this country and the security of our own.

De Oppresso Libre

2 comments:

Karen said...

Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Yes, beautiful...and as long as I'm alive, there'll be no forgetting the efforts & sacrifices made by our Warriors. Thank you for the blog & for your service.