Deployment Chronicles - Hero Missions
By Mindy King, Volunteer Writer, Central Region
During my first deployment, I was assigned to an Air Assault battalion. Although we did many different missions besides the occasional assault, there was one that was more difficult than the rest.
My first Hero Mission was at the tail end of my progression. As we arrived at the hospital landing pad in Washington (downtown Baghdad) to pick up a soldier that was killed in action, I wasn't sure what to expect. The rest of the crew and I all got out of the helicopter and stood at attention waiting for them to bring the Soldier out. Once the medical crew had verified it was okay to approach, they proceeded forward with the stretcher that had an American flag draped over it, which covered the black body bag underneath. As they moved closer, the rotor wash from the helicopter started blowing the flag around and the body bag became visible. The medical crew worked diligently to try to keep the flag in place.
The other crew members and I saluted as the stretcher was moved in front of us. We helped the medical personnel place the Soldier in the aircraft and get him properly secured. My hands were shaking. I tried to steady them, but it didn’t work. As we made the flight from Washington to Baghdad International Airport for the Soldier to be transitioned for transport back to the States, the only sound you could hear was the sound of the helicopter blades.
When we were heading back to Taji for the end of our mission, little was said. Although there is usually chatter going on between the crew members to try to keep things a little lighter, this wasn't the time. Even though we had already provided the transport for the Soldier, we each now carried a weight with us, as we knew that somewhere on the other side of the world there was a family being notified that their Soldier had been killed.
After landing and shut down, we went through our typical post flight and closing out of the flight. I had been fighting back tears the whole time. I was feeling an overflow of emotions, but I was trying to appear like things didn't affect me because I was still the only female door gunner in our brigade and I was working around all guys. That facade of strength was a necessity.
Before I headed 'home' for the night, a crew member stopped me and wanted to talk for a few minutes. He wanted to check on me after the Hero Mission. He then shared his own thoughts. He said that no matter how much any of these guys act like that kind of mission doesn't affect them, don't believe it for one minute. He told me that many of them held things in until they got back to their rooms at night or until they could find a quiet place to reflect on it alone. The bottom line: Having the honor of transporting a Soldier that was killed in action is beyond words. Even after flying hundreds of hours during a deployment and feeling like each day was just a repeat of the last, with all the missions blurring together and your memory becoming hazy about whether you did a mission the day or the week before, every detail of every Hero Mission had stuck and remains clear as day.
Throughout the rest of the deployment, I had the honor of being on the crew for six other Hero Missions, each one unique and each one permanently etched in my memory. I can only imagine what goes through the mind of family members after they have been notified of their service members’ death, but I would imagine that knowing each Soldier is handled with the utmost respect on his or her journey home would be comforting. If I could reach out to those Soldiers’ families, I would tell them that although we never knew their soldier and we only carried them for a very short period on a flight, in each one of our hearts and minds we will carry them forever.
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