Michael's Dispatches

One Giant Leap


20 July 2009

Yesterday, a helicopter crashed on base at Kandahar Airfield, killing sixteen.  Later that night we had a minor rocket attack which caused me to roll out of bed onto the floor, while this morning, I got up to the great pleasure of watching Neil Armstrong on the BBC, talking about this historic anniversary, when man first stepped on the moon.  I remember that launch as it roared so brightly into space.  It remains perhaps the most spectacular day in the history of man.   Every worthy endeavor comes with a cost.

Around the same time Mr. Armstrong was speaking this morning, roars from war jets rumbled through base as they rushed down the nearby runway.  A British Tornado lifted off but did not get far before it crashed and burned. The two crew members successfully escaped and are recovering from ejection trauma.  The cause of the Mi-26 crash last Tuesday that killed five is unclear, but a military source mentioned that the helicopter was shot down by an RPG.  At least six aircraft—two jets and four helicopters—have gone down this month.  Two Americans were lost in a jet crash.

My flight from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion was less eventful, and shortly after landing, I was given a tour of the trauma facility that I had heard and read so much about.  I’m not a medical professional and so cannot make a professional assessment of the facility, but can say that it seemed like an A++ facility.  If I were a soldier, it would be very good to know that such a high-tech place is waiting, with plenty of extra beds, and a relatively massive staff including 43 British, 45 Americans, and 97 Danes.  The place is crawling with trauma expertise.  The Danes just took over operation of the hospital today at noon, and will run it for three months.  This writer is plenty upset with some countries for not devoting enough resources to this war, but at least with medical facilities they are primo.  (This is also true in Iraq.  Every U.S. soldier who got shot or blown up [who could still talk] would tell me that their treatment from the battle zone back to the United States was exemplary, but when they got back to Texas or wherever, their treatment was often terrible.)  In any case, as someone who might also get shot or blown up in Afghanistan, my grunt-level assessment of this facility at Camp Bastion is very positive.  On medical care, we can rest assured.  The biggest problem they have to treat are heat casualties, which can occur by the dozens.

The U.S. Marines are flooding in, and you might think that every Marine helicopter in our arsenal is here.  I’ll not give numbers and types other than to say the line of aircraft is long and formidable.

The U.S. Marines are a spectacle for the U.S. Army and also the British Army.  The Marines will come in and live like pure animals, and build a base around themselves, whereas the British and American Armies will tend to build at least part of the base before coming in.  One Marine commander told me that during the early part of this war, his men didn’t even shower for three months.  We talked for a couple of hours and he was proud that his Marines didn’t need a shower for three months, and that his Marines killed a lot of Taliban and managed to lose only one good man.  That’s the Marines.  They’ll show up in force with no warning, and their reputation with U.S. Army and Brits who have fought alongside them is stellar.  A NPR photographer who just spent more than three weeks with the Marines could not praise them enough, saying he’d been with them in Iraq, too, and that when Marines take casualties, their reaction is to continue to attack.  They try to stay in contact until they finish the enemy, no matter how long it takes.  Truly they are animals when it comes to the fight.  Other than that, great guys.  Tonight at dinner, a young Marine Lance Corporal sat in front of me at the crowded dining facility.  “Good evening, Sir,” he said.  I asked, “Are you living like animals out there?”  “Livin’ the dream, Sir!”  They are fantastic.

In any case, tomorrow I go back into combat with the British infantry soldiers of 2 Rifles.  The last mission I did with this excellent “Battle Group” (British for “Battalion”) was in Iraq, and they killed maybe 26-27 enemy during that mission.  The platoon I had accompanied fired about 4,000 rounds.  It had been a rather loud day.  The battle group is sustaining serious casualties here in Afghanistan, and I look forward to joining them right where we left off: in combat.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark Buehner · 11 years ago
    Its amazing how the Marine reputation has changed and grown in the last few years. Some of my army friends used to grouse about the 'meat-head' marines running around blowing up everything in sight... before seeing their work in Iraq. Now the reputation is as world class nation builders and peace enforcers, and somebody you DO NOT want to break the peace with. No better friend, no worse enemy. It has never been more true.
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    Ben H. · 11 years ago
    Keep up the great reports. Our servicemen deserve to have somebody like you there as a witness to the sacrifice that they are making. Stay strong!
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    Doug Gugino · 11 years ago
    Mr. Yon - I will be contributing again. Your reporting is without comparison. I was encouraged to hear NPR is also in the arena. A friend, lance corporal, was kia in Iraq - can't believe almost three years ago. Thank you for reporting on their bravery, and behind it, their leadership. Nothing to diminish the bravery of british and us army, I am in awe of what democracy can instill in their young men and women.

    best regards,
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    cliff lindsay · 11 years ago
    Socialized Medicine in the USA means Euthanasia.
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    Paul Menifee · 11 years ago
    Makes you proud to hear comments about fellow Marines!
    GOD be YOU Mr. Yon & all of the brave fighting forces!
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    Felipe · 11 years ago
    I had the pleasure of serving alongside "Jar Heads"... Honestly few things can be added to Michael's observations: they are true Brothers in arms.

    On a side note I personally wonder what roll the Rangers will have in Stan... Rapid deployment force, recon, classified?

    Semper Fidelis !
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    Scott J. · 11 years ago
    My son was one of the Marines that lived like an animal last summer in Garmser, Helmand. No showers, frequently not enough food and water, heat, dust, fleas, flies, IEDs and ambushes. When asked what he would like to do on his next deployment, he replies, "To go somewhere more difficult than Garmser." And he means it. It's unfortunate but predictable that when they pulled out last September the Taliban came back and executed some Afghans that had cooperated with the Marines. Here we are again with the Marines. Will we back fill this time as promised? I have my doubts.
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    thedametruth · 11 years ago
    Mr. Yon, as always, your reports bear the mark of excellence. We who have loved ones in Helmand Province eagerly await your news.
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    Steve Graves · 11 years ago
    Michael: Can't wait for coming dispatches on the Brits. Your stories of their battles last year in the cornfields were gripping. I anticipate that their escapades in south Afghanistan will be just as exciting. Keep up the fantastic work.

    As for the Marines. . . I have a son 18 months into training as a Marine Officer. Everytime I visit him I am amazed at the caliber of people that serve in the Corps, and the dedication that they pour into their jobs - especially the NCOs. And as near as I can determine they are doing all this training and war fighting with Vietnam era equipment, which they keep in tip-top shape.
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    Kristin · 11 years ago
    Thanks, Michael, for bringing the 'real' news to us. This type of reporting is what we need to see from the other media. You do a superb job at bringing the truth and reality of this war home. It not only causes us to hold our freedom that much closer to our hearts, it gives us an even greater respect and admiration for the soldiers who fight to keep our freedom back here at home (as well as to give it to others). I truly feel honored to know that they are fighting for us.
    A big thank you goes out to the troops abroad and at home. Please keep up the good work, and stay safe. We're very proud of you all!
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    tom Boehnlein · 11 years ago
    Michael your comments are so true concerning the marines, my son just returned from Now Zad. Got his 1st shower after four months a week later he made the comment he couldn't believe he loved being there as much as he did. I have never heard one complaintfrom him ithe 2 years he has been in.
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    Michael Bond · 11 years ago
    glad to see your embedding again with the brits, hope you make a series out of the reports, love reading your work, down to earth no bs reporting...stay safe out there michael
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    Brian · 11 years ago
    ...but stay safe.
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    Salgofnir · 11 years ago
    Stay safe and keep getting the message out.
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    Tom Jones · 11 years ago
    Well done as always Michael. Check six and keep up the good work. Fortunatly, you're with some of the best in the business and they'll watch your back. Between the Brits and our guys you should be a-ok. Nevertheless, our thoughts and prayers are with you and all our Dogs Of War.
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    Jack E. Hammond · 11 years ago

    Mike comments on the Marine helicopters. From the photos I see their are no CH-4 Sea Knights medium lift helicopters. The reason is that they are unsuitable for Afghanistan's hot and high climate. Also they have been flying since Vietnam and are worn out. The Marines should have replaced them decades ago, but feared replacing them would endanger their MV-22 Osprey program. And lot of Marines died due to old worn out CH-4 crashing. And now the Marine Times reports that the USMC is admitting that the MV-22 is also unsuitable for Afghanistan.

    Jack E. Hammond

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    Ronnie Schreiber · 11 years ago
    It's nice that the other US military services and our allies respect the abilities of the Marines. More important is that America's enemies fear those abilities. I kinda like the idea that in addition to our regular Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard we have an entire other army of badasses.
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    Egen · 11 years ago
    The MV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan - NOT!
    We mostly use CH-5 not CH4 . and they are and have been very reliable though very old. I;ve been out hear a year now. This crash is not common. I fly on them weekly here. These Helicopters are amazing work horses. They leak allot but that's a good thing. The worry is when the stop leaking. The V22 is not designed to operate in environments such as this part of AFG. Franky, nothing really isl. This the most rugged and hostile terrain in the world. The Dust, temperatures, and altitude are extreme. The Osprey was never conceived for this.

    Here are some pictures of Bastion and Leatherneck to go with Micheal's words.

    Micheal, You should head up to Now Zad where the fighting is. Us Marines are getting some fierce action. This is much preferred than getting blown up sitting in vehicles.
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    Flemming · 11 years ago

    Thank you very much for all your hard work, it is very much appreciated.

    However, I just had to comment on this sentence:
    "This writer is plenty upset with some countries for not devoting enough resources to this war, but at least with medical facilities they are primo."
    which was placed right after you mentioned the Danes taking over the Camp Bastion medical facility, making it appear that you think Denmark is one of the countries not contributing enough. But if you look at the numbers, Denmark has 750 soldiers in Afghanistan, almost all in Helmand in the thick of the fighting, working very closely with the British. Now, if you compare the size of the population of Denmark and the USA, this would be equivalent of the US having about 41,000 soldiers there. So I would say that Denmark is actually contributing as much as can be expected. It should also be mentioned that Denmark actually holds the sad record of highest casualty rate per capita in Afghanistan among the ISAF countries.

    Thanks again, Michael, I visit your site every day and are very thankful that we have someone like you to report to us about what is going on.
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    Scarface · 11 years ago
    Sounds like you've mated the CH-46 Sea Knight with the CH-5 Sea Stallion and come up with a new and non-existent CH-4 . The word on the V-22 Osprey is apparently that it is not hacking it and further procurement is in doubt - again.
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    CAZ · 11 years ago
    I'm a 28 yr USMC vet who started out as a platoon sergeant in Vietnam. I returned after college to become a CH-46D, F and E pilot with a turboprop background as well. While it's great to see the Phrogs finally getting replaced (they talked long and hard about the XV-15, aka MV-22 when I was a 1Lt), Heeb's MV-22 does not appear the solution. I knew something was wrong when I saw a special on the tube about it and how it was being touted by a BGen Tim Hanafin. I knew this idiot when he was a worthless boot captain and it is startling to see the idiots at CMC gave him a star. No wonder things are screwed up at the top but the troops still make me so proud. That's the one thing that never changes in the Corps regardless of how messed up the leadership becomes. Semper Fidelis devil doggies.
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      Tinman · 9 years ago
      [quote name="CAZ"]I'm a 28 yr USMC vet who started out as a platoon sergeant in Vietnam. I returned after college to become a CH-46D, F and E pilot with a turboprop background as well. While it's great to see the Phrogs finally getting replaced (they talked long and hard about the XV-15, aka MV-22 when I was a 1Lt), Heeb's MV-22 does not appear the solution. I knew something was wrong when I saw a special on the tube about it and how it was being touted by a BGen Tim Hanafin. I knew this idiot when he was a worthless boot captain and it is startling to see the idiots at CMC gave him a star. No wonder things are screwed up at the top but the troops still make me so proud. That's the one thing that never changes in the Corps regardless of how messed up the leadership becomes. Semper Fidelis devil doggies.[/quote]

      I saw the same piece with Hanafin, and knew him as a Capt as well...could not agree with your assessment more.
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    G.S Dyson · 11 years ago

    Keep up the good work. I've been following your writing for about a year now and feel you're doing all of us a huge service by providing a clear view of what's happening.

    I look forward to reading your reports while you accompany the 2nd rifles. I hope you get the opportunity to report on the Canadian units deployed in Afghanistan as well.

    Take care
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    tomax7 · 11 years ago
    Any word on how the Canadians are doing? Almost like the forgotten cousin syndrome.
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    Carl · 11 years ago
    Great post Michael.......our marine has been on a MEU in the Indian Ocean taking out "pirates".....Hes due back in port soon and is heading to Afganistan in the fall. Semper FI dont worry about your backside. The marines have you covered!!
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    Ben · 11 years ago
    "The cause of the Mi-26 crash last Tuesday that killed five is unclear, but a military source mentioned that the helicopter was shot down by an RPG."

    There's no way that copter could have been hit by an RPG. It hit a berm on take off and probably crashed within the base perimeter. I'm a contractor working on the airfield and saw the smoke just after it crashed. One theory going around is the aircraft was overloaded and lost lift upon takeoff. The Tornado apparently lost an engine on takeoff and both pilots bailed out. I heard the afterburners kicking in and everyone was thinking WTF? Then the crash and smoke. They keep crashing and burning but that's Afghanistan for you.

    Anyways I've been checking out your dispatches since Mosul, Iraq. You're doing great things. Glad to know we are taking it to 'em. Air Assault!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael · 11 years ago
    The Mi-26 crash did not occur at Kandahar. It happened about 500 meters from where I am sitting in Sangin, Helmand Province. Am surrounded by eyewitnesses; some of these men secured the crash. (British 2 Rifles.) The crash on KAF (Kandahar Airfield) was a different helicopter.

    There were numerous crashes this month so it's easy to mix them up, but the dispatch was correct. The soldiers here believe it was hit by an RPG, but they are unsure. Some of them actually saw the moments of the crash. It happened right outside the base.

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    Tracy · 11 years ago

    Please keep safe and keep-up the great reporting! We need your dispatches. Thanks for all your great work from Afghanistan and Iraq.
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    Diane Welker · 11 years ago
    As a Marine mom and mother-in-law, I can't thank you enough for sharing your experiences and observations with the world about the war. God bless you.
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    Richard Stamm · 11 years ago
    The United States Marines are the unltimate fighting force for the USofA. As a retired Army Major, I have the highest respect for all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines and the difficult duty that they have to accomplish, however, the United States Marines have proven their worth time and time again in past battles and will continue to carry forward the strong Marine training and selflessness in all that they do.
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    William Axium · 11 years ago
    First time reading your column. (Extremely interesting) I know it is all so true because I lived the life many years ago (50). I can atest to the fact that Marines use out dated equipment. We were using WWII radio gear and eating "C" rats from the 40s. One day I was in the chow line in the field and we were having hot dogs--w/beans, plus some other goods the Marine Chefs had cooked up. Lo and behold the case that the sick looking hot dogs came in was marked in big red letters REJECT US ARMY. It felt good to eat some hot chow for a change.

    SEMPER FI to all you good men out there
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    Enoch Pashby · 11 years ago
    I would like to thank you for the work you are doing. I give you the same respect that I do my brother's in the Marines. You are on the front lines putting your life in danger trying to defend americans from lies and prop from main stream media. It is impossible to know what it is like in combat unless you have been there but you shed a much needed life on it. Remember there is no safer place on earth than inside a battalion of Marines! Semper Fi !
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    Richard Reilly · 11 years ago
    I started my working career in 1970 in the international credit department of Union Carbide. After about 6 months on the job our department was reviewed by an internal auditor. The auditor was a hardnose and not very friendly at all until he learned that I had been in the Marine Corps. He became friendlier and told me the following story: He had been a Captain in the Army and had been considering making it a career and he blamed the Corps for changing his mind. In Vietnam his battalion had been trying for weeks to take a hill held by the VC. Every time they made their attacks they suffered, what was considered by Army standards, heavy casualties and were forced to withdraw. Between attacks they called in heavy artillery fire and air strikes. The entire battalion was bogged down for weeks and huge resources were spent with no success. It came down to a stalemate. According to the auditor he was in his CP on another hill when he observed a company of Marines land by helicopter at the base of hill. He watched in astonishment as the company formed up in line and started up the hill. Within a few hours the hill was taken, the VC that didn’t escape were all dead, and the Marine company had suffered 60% casualties. He said he was so embarrassed that a company Marines had accomplished in a few hours what his battalion could not accomplish in weeks that he decided there on the spot that he wasn’t going to make the Army his career.
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    JD · 11 years ago
    My son is a Marine deployed in Afghanistan right now and I just wanted to say "THANK YOU" so much for sharing this news and the pictures with us. Our Marines are AMAZING. I pray so much for their safety and for the families who sacrifice so much. It means so much to us to hear stories that support their mission.
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    G Beckerman · 11 years ago
    The Marines are using lessons learned on both war fronts, They have looked back to Combined Action Programs from the vietnam era and are adapting the principals to the wars against terror. (See) capmarine.com
    Semper Fi
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    danny · 11 years ago
    Great to see you there in "stan" doing what you do best, keep us informed.
    Thank you and God Bless all those in harms way.

    *To my marine brothers out there "Livin’ the dream", Keep taking the fight to the enemy They CANNOT win and you will destroy them if/when they fight.

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    Laurie · 11 years ago
    Thank you Michael, my son is one of those in Helmand who is living like an animal. Not one complaint from him as Marines stay focused on each other, their mission and self is last.

    God Bless you for riding with our troops. It has been a long time since I have spoken with him, so every detail you write is never taken for granted.

    Stay Safe Michael....you have my support.

    VPM Lcpl. Blake
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    Gunny Felker · 11 years ago
    After two deployments to Iraq, one to Jordan, one to Israel, One to Somalia, And one to Saudi/Kuwait, I can honestly say that I have not slept in a tent or stayed in a FOB during combat operations. My average weight drop: 25 lbs. My bed: the ground. My pillow: my helmet. Temperature during my last trip to Iraq: 154 degrees farenheit. My best friend: my m4..worst friend: shitty m9 magazines. You rock dude. Semper Fi!
    --GySgt Felker 0 21
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    Gene T. Elliott · 11 years ago
    Michael, This is the first time I have seen your column. Keep up the good work and honest reporting. Your work is
    reminiscent of the great WW II G.I. reporter, Ernie Pyle. He too lived and reported with the everyday troopers.
    We seriously need truthful and timely reporting from the battlefield. Unfortunately our main stream media only reports
    information favorable to our foes. We were winning in Vietnam, but the news media forced the American people to believe that we were lost. The battle at Hue was a good example. Our MARINES are the greatest fighting force the
    world has today. May GOD bless the USMC and all our servicemen and servicewomen. The patriotism of some of our
    young tigers is unbelievable. Too bad we can't instill a little of this pride and belief in our christian principles in our
    academic community. Keep up the good work
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    R. J. Morgan, MSgt U · 11 years ago
    Michael, thank you so much for your recent report. I have a son-in-law currenty serving in the Helmand area. Recently his wife, my daughter was talking with a soldier who had recently returned from there and he told her that he was really glad that he was in the Army and not the Marines. He said the Marines had it really bad over there compared to everyone else. I have had an opportunity to talk with my son-in-law recently and though he admits he misses the shower, he refuses to admit that the going is tough. I am proud of him and all the young men and women currently serving the Corps. Our young men in the past few years have had to endure repeated absences from family but continue to give their all for our country. God Bless them and protect them, and you as well. Thank you for reports. Semper Fi!!
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    The Kitchen Dispatch · 11 years ago
    My husband is a surgeon with an FST in another part of the country. The team is, as you say, prime --the best he's every worked with. This is saying alot given that he's been a surgeon for 2 years, in one of the busiest regions in the USA. Now, he is a full time active duty surgeon. He says he's never worked with so many dedicated professionals who are stellar.
    It's very true. The quickness in which they can move a soldier from battlefield to a primary FST, stabilize the soldier, then send them on to a larger base hospital, and then onto Germany, Washington or Texas is fast. In fact, in many ways due to the closure of stateside trauma units, it's far more efficient. The challenge is retooling the smaller military hospitals and addressing staff shortages caused by constant deployments and difficulties in getting physician recruits. To their credit, they are now going after MD's with 20 years of experience which is highly needed to give a better mix of just-graduated medical residents. As for the issues soldiers have with long term care from either the VA or subcontracted TriCare providers, this all has to be monitored closely by a willing public.
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    Ron · 11 years ago
    years as Midshipan and Marine Officer and and I was emotionally moved by your observations of the indomitable spirit of the individual Marine. My only regret at 59 years of age is that I am not allowed to serve side by side with my brothers. The next best thing is working as a contractor supporting Marines in battle.

    Semper Fidelis from Iraq
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    Bill Moore · 11 years ago
    The start of your piece (hearing Mr. Armstrong remember the moon landing) brought to mind a small 'snippet' I wrote in response to an invitation to share memories of that date 40 years ago:

    http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC- 00827

    I read your reports with awe and pride in these Marines. Please stay safe.
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    Cynthia Whitt · 11 years ago
    i love your stories, I just heard about your site. The helicopter incident on 20 July 2009, that killed 16 people was a very tramatic story for me, my son was there and is one of the soldiers that helped rescue the five survivors, and he had a very hard time afterwards. Thank you so much for your stories and will continue to keep reading. Keep safe and God Bless You!
    Mom of 2 Army Boys

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