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 by Manuel Batlle
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Current Events Bring Up The Memories Of A Sailor
        In July, of 2004, I was in the desert of Afghanistan. The day of arrival our C-130 was going to land in what they called a tactical landing. The maneuver felt as if the military aircraft was almost in free fall. I remember one of the guys throwing his ball cap in the air and watch it drift to the floor slowly as if the velocity of gravity was reduced from 9.80665 m/s to 4.903325 m/s. Where had we arrived? I         wondered.
The mission was clear, as we were an antisubmarine squadron that shifted its mission to support the air as a reconnaissance outfit. Eventually a somewhat humorous mural was painted in the squadron’s office that read “Keeping Afghanistan submarine free since 2004”
        The moral was high in our squadron since the patriotic spirit had been reigning after the unfortunate twin tower attacks of 2001. And the missions began in support of ground troops as we thought we were taking steps to win the so-called War on terror.
        We all slept together in a very long tent that fit all 20 of us. We all felt, and believed, we were supporting freedom. All went well for the first 2 weeks until an internal war began to broil within each sailor. These were not just men in uniform but were fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, friends and spouses of women. The internal turmoil was the natural desire to be with those we love. Smiling sailors now seemed to be short tempered and disgruntled. There seemed to be no delicious meal or promise of return home that would refocus everybody on performing the tasks as military men. Then I had an idea.
        In aviation many steps have been taken toward safety improvement over the years. The costs of these safety lessons, or wisdom, have required many unfortunate accidents that have cost the lives of many. A major step in aviation safety was the checklist. The checklist that dated back to 1935 when the U.S. Army Air Corps decided its creation after the Boeing’s flying fortress or Model 299 was listed in the news as “too much airplane for one man to fly.” The idea of a checklist has now not only traveled many miles with the aircrew-men and women but now even the hospitals have these in their operating rooms as a means to reduce human error.
        Here was I, in the middle of the desert wondering where was the checklist on ensuring high moral amongst sailors in this war zone setting. As I was walking through the store on base I saw for the first time non-alcoholic beer. Later that night I called my good friend Tony who was at another base. I asked for a favor, it would require sending a special package in the name of parts for our airplane. The box needed to be labeled “miscellaneous parts.” The shipment took a couple of days but arrived. I met the aircraft on the tarmac with the special shipment. One of the crewmembers even handed me a tall water bottle and told me it was special water. After finishing the post-flight servicing I told the guys to bring back cups with ice for all and some sodas.
        I told all the men we had a special treat but nobody would be able to leave the tent that night. Thankfully we did not have any scheduled missions till two days later. I opened the box labeled miscellaneous parts. Everybody's eyes lit up when they read the label of the mini-Coronas, the 20 unit bottles inside protected by Styrofoam. The special water turned out to be clear Bacardi rum. I saw how the smiles started to appear on each face. Many eventually sung at the top of their lungs to the tunes of Hawaiian reggae. This moment brought all together in this war torn spot on earth. The next day all still missed their loved ones but the tension levels had fallen.
        Before we departed Afghanistan the whole base was summoned to a ceremony of a fallen soldier. We were thousands in formation all perfectly aligned in ranks of all branches, all together to pay respects to a fallen brother.
        As I was in ranks, I pondered on all the hoops we needed to go through to make our missions happen. I thought of the emotional roller coasters all the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and spouses had to go through which were all gathered here standing at attention. I could see in the distance the fallen soldier battle cross, consisting of a helmet, rifle and boots. I never met the soldier of whom we came to pay respects. The ceremony continued step by step. The First Sergeant called the traditional Last Roll Call. A Fallen Soldier formation of Marine Harriers flew by overhead. We saw and heard the firing of rifle volleys, a twenty-one-gun salute. It was not until the sound of taps began that it sunk in. Taps presents a sound so penetrating that it breaks even the toughest men.
        This is what comes to mind many years later in very trying times for many, as the world witnesses acts difficult to understand. I am no military expert or a connoisseur of cultures and their beliefs. I do not try to glorify any military might or belittle any country or culture. When I go for nature hikes the beauty of harmony enraptures me. I am blown away by the symbiotic truce respected in mountaintops, ocean bottoms and even far beyond the stratosphere. But from my humble seat I still hear the sound of taps in my head and remember its sobering effect, a message yelling, “A brother has fallen, his life has been lost!”