Michael's Dispatches

The Kopp-Etchells Effect



The halo often disappears when the helicopter ramp touches the ground.  Again, the conditions are quite dark, but the excellent camera gear has tiger vision.

The British medical staff treats many wounded Afghans who often show up at the gate.  In the photo above, Dr. Rhiannon Dart (right) observes as an Afghan patient is medically evacuated to the trauma center at Camp Bastion.  The medics and Dr. Dart are especially respected for the risks they equally share here.  The medical staff walks into combat just like the other soldiers—frequently side by side in close combat.  Numerous times per week, their battlefield work, often under intense pressure in hot and filthy conditions, is the deciding factor on whether soldiers or civilians survive or die.  I asked Dr. Dart if Afghan men have any reservations when being treated by a woman.  She answered that when men are seriously wounded—which is about the only time she sees Afghans as patients—they don’t care if she is a man or a woman.  During a mission last week, I saw an Afghan soldier walk by with a bandage on his hand.  Dr. Dart stopped the soldier, asking him to remove the bandage.  Contrary to harboring reservations, the soldier appeared relieved that she wanted—actually sort of politely demanded—to examine his injury.

The ramp lifts in preparation for takeoff and the halo begins to rematerialize before the helicopter lifts into the darkness and disappears.  Soldiers call the medevac flights to Camp Bastion, “Nightingales” or “Nightingale flights.”  Shortly after sunrise on the morning of 13 August, an element from this unit was ambushed nearby, killing three and wounding two others.   Despite the immediate danger, the helicopter came straight onto the battlefield.  After the initial ambush, and another successful ambush during the evacuation, the British soldiers did not return to base but continued with the mission.  Later that evening they were twice ambushed again, sustaining more fatalities as two interpreters were killed.  Soldiers asked me to go on that mission but I was busy assembling this dispatch.  One of the killed soldiers, shortly before the mission, had looked over my shoulder as I selected the photos.   Captain Mark Hale was killed while aiding a wounded soldier.  Mark had particularly liked the next three images:

Night after night, helicopters keep coming.  Last month a civilian resupply helicopter had tried to land at this exact spot but was shot down on final approach.  Two children on the ground and all persons aboard were killed.  The helicopter crews earn much respect.

Sometimes the halos appear like distant galaxies.

In motion, the halos spark, glitter and veritably crackle, but in still photos the halos appear more like intricate orbital bands.

Perhaps like the rings of Saturn.

The halos usually disappear as the rotors change pitch, dust diminishes and the ramp touches the ground.  On some nights, on this very same landing zone, no halos form.

Note: By request of the British Army, a handful of these photos were slightly altered to obscure base security measures.  The alterations are limited to minimal parts of several photos.

On another night, the helicopters return.  The camera is jostled, accidentally creating a double image.

Note: Most photos, such as this one, are unaltered other than normal 'black room' processing.

They keep coming.

What is this halo phenomenon called?  None of the American or British helicopter pilots seemed to have a name for the effect.  They provide only descriptions and circumscriptions.  I asked many people, and finally reached out to Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger (one of my “break glass only if” sources whom I ask when other means have failed).  Jeff asked pilots, and came back with an excellent description from one pilot:

"Basically it is a result of static electricity created by friction as materials of dissimilar material strike against each other. In this case titanium/nickel blades moving through the air and dust. It occurs on the ground as well, but you don't usually see it as much unless the aircraft is landing or taking off. The most common time is when fuel is being pumped. When large tankers are being fueled they must be grounded to prevent static electricity from discharging and creating explosions."

But still no name.  How can the helicopter halos, so majestic and indeed dangerous at times, be devoid of a fitting name?

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    RWHannaway · 12 years ago
    Hey Michael,

    I was curious if you had a chance to read this http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=118227974092&h=7I-cM&u=msoAM and if so, what you think of the article... it's pretty benign but I was curious as to it's accuracy.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeff · 12 years ago
    Since 9/11/01 I knew this. I'm convinced this is a Good fight fought by Good people against an Enemy that is fighting an Eternal struggle to control the World (given the reality of todays' World, this is en ever-expanding definition). The common West doesn't get this, instead focusing on political expediency and trivial temporal concerns. I say perplexed because we (the West) are losing the best we have and the initiative while being too preoccupied with BS (bullsh*t), political or otherwise. Men like Joe Etchells are gone while the rest of the World will never give a flying leap. It's going to take a lot more before the West masses wake up. Meanwhile, more guys like Etchells will disappear. It makes me sick that these great people sacrifice for a populace that is so ungrateful/ignorant.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul S. · 12 years ago
    The loss of these warriors is heartbreaking. Their resolve is inspiring.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David · 12 years ago
    In an effort to get the name of the effect more wel known:

    Well done and a great idea for memorialising these guys.

    Keep up the good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RWHannaway · 12 years ago

    Thank you for another heartfelt post. Your writing enables us to be right there with you (almost) as our emotions build while your words tear through our eyes. Your compassion for your fellow brothers in arms is inspiring and your reporting is spot on. Again, many thanks for your strong work. Be safe.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Singadick · 12 years ago
    Well-written. You are obviously deeply touched by the losses, but keep it in check for accurate reporting.

    Please keep in mind that, should you ever make that list, many hundreds who depend on your eyes, ears, and camera will have no way of knowing what is really going on there.

    There are some cold ones waiting ... make sure you collect, please.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    a father · 12 years ago
    So far this year it seems that losses will be double those of last year. For the UK the increase in losses since it entered Helmand in 2006 has been staggering, with 5 lost from 2001 to 2005 and then 199 lost since 2006, 67 so far this year. When losses reach these levels it is easy for individual names to be forgotten, and we must never forget the stories of heroism and family tragedy. Your idea to remember two individuals is a way of ensuring that at least two of the post 2001 heroes and heroines will not be forgotten. As an aside I have heard Mark Hale described as a legend not just by his CO but by others who had the honour to meet him and work alongside him, an individual who acted as a role model for many, and in whom in even a brief meeting others could sense the strength, and inspiration he gave, it will be a long time before many come to accept he is no longer with us.

    Today though coalition soldiers will continue to walk or drive out of the gates and show determination to ensure that the fallen did not fall in vain.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David · 12 years ago
    Thanks for the continued updates. Great stories of brave men. Make sure to tell the Britts we are impressed by their courage and very saddened for the loss of their brothers. I wish I could be there to meet them. Thanks for being our eyes and make sure to thank them for us!!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joanie · 12 years ago
    And thank you for bringing their stories to us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    P.K. Fields · 12 years ago
    Great pictures, thank you..my son is in the 2/8.

    I will be attending Lance Corporal Javier Olvera's funeral tomorrow.
    Stay safe...God Speed.

    P.K. Fields
  • This commment is unpublished.
    vicki · 12 years ago
    ive only been getting your posts for about 2 wks. i dont even know where i got the link. this post was quite sobering and im writing through tears for the men and women who have given their lives selflessly. may God be with their families in their loss. thanks for doing what you do.
    god bless you too.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jez · 12 years ago
    Further to @david with an effort to get the name of the effect more well known - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopp-Etchells_effect

    Michael, anychance you can place just ONE picture of the effect in the public domain? We need to add a picture to Wikipedia, and can't if you copyright it?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Debra Burlingame · 12 years ago
    My profound gratitude to the fallen warriors whose names and stories are enscribed in this post. Reading about Corporals Kopp and Etchells, I am filled with love for two men I never knew. I wonder, what are the stories of the other names on that list? Last night I had dinner in New York City, at a busy restaurant a stone's throw from Ground Zero. There is no sense that we are at war. Michael Yon, thank you for persevering in dangerous places. I respectfully ask all readers to give what they can so that his intrepid reporting can continue. God bless the international coalition forces of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    From the sister of Capt. Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines flt 77, Pentagon attack, Sept. 1, 2001
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ed · 12 years ago
    re: the helicopter blades, "rotorndra" seemed good to me. Tragic about Etchells. Thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    alex nelon · 12 years ago
    J.D. Argentine (killed 8/6) was the son of good friends ... he was, himself, a fine young man. We are seeing the best of this generation volunteering to serve at great peril to themselves. They know this and they volunteer to serve anyway. God bless them all.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    WCOG · 12 years ago
    I'm pretty sure this is an example of the Triboelectric Effect, but honestly I like your name better.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 12 years ago
    Thank you M. Yon for all you do. Reading about the Ranger who donated his heart, his life to protect us from radicalism, I felt profound sorrow..damn these are fine men. When will the West really wake up to this threat? Its like A-stan is on another planet, we here at home are untouched. If/when another attack happens, [God forbid] maybe then? Godspeed Michael and to all the warriors there. They must know there are many, many that care and shed tears for them. This is very sad, but Etch's last request made me smile. Keep ur head down Mike, pls be careful. Tell the guys there are people who love them, and for all the sacrifice.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marc · 12 years ago
    Here's to us, and those like us. Damned few left. God bless 'em.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barry Sheridan. Hamp · 12 years ago
    Thank you for this sympathetic treatment of the lives and deaths of so many brave service personnel (and the excellent photographs).

    It is heartening in a way to know that even in this world there are still those with the courage to step forwards and tackle a most difficult job on behalf of nations whose populations often cannot be bothered to give them a thought.

    Your conribution remains a vital component of getting some perspective of what it going and how we are doing.Certainly if I relied on the UK MOD I would remain in the dark. It is also important that our guys realise that many of us care very deeply about their fate, even if all we can do is write irate letters to disinterested parliamentarians (with the notable exception of Lady Anne Winterton).

    Keep your head down, regards Barry Sheridan
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jerry Dyben · 12 years ago
    Saint El·mo's fire (lmz)
    A visible electric discharge accompanied by ionization of surronding atmosphere on a pointed object, such as the mast of a ship or the wing of an airplane or helicopter.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Lawson · 12 years ago
    I lost my BEST friend and brother in Sagnin May 8th 2007. Not only was he a SF solider he was also a FireFighter Paramedic with skills and courage UNMATCHED by others. Micheal Yon you are an amazing man. Your courage and determination to tell and photograph these wonderful soiders from the US and the UK is a gift from GOD. I pray each and every day for all the soilders serving and for you Micheal. Thank you..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 12 years ago
    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/17/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    KimH · 12 years ago
    Fantastic photos and low light performance. Could you share what camera you're using these days?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jimmy H · 12 years ago
    I shed a tear today.

    Thank you all for your service and sacrifice.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Pratico · 12 years ago
    Michael, thanks for bringing the lives of these brave soldiers to us. The mainstream media seems to just broadcast body-counts, seemingly nameless and anonymous body-counts.

    Thank you for the telling the stories of these heroes and photographing their work. It really puts a face on a war that if too often forgotten here at home.

    May God bless you and all of our brave soldiers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    maddy · 12 years ago
    A very sweet story in rememberance of all that have fallen, including the naming of the "Nightingale" aura, the Kopp-Etchells Effect. I thought at first you had named it in passing, calling the copters "Nightingales!" However, naming the effect after two of the many gallant soldiers that have fallen, must give the living all the more drive and commttment to continue the job at hand and defeat the evil forces in that region.

    You seem to be living a life that was meant to endure and report the news from the battle front. Otherwise, you could have been on tht fateful mission, when so many were lost. Some posts have said that the west doesn't care what's going on in Afghan, but Ican tell you, the silent majority in the USA DOES INDEED CARE, more than they will ever know. Americans know that freedom is never free and our fighting men and women and their coalition of brave soldiers will never let that be taken from us.

    It's true that politicians at home have done their best to obscure what's going on in Afghan, with the health care debacle, home foreclosures, bank and auto industry bailouts, but we know our young men and women of our country and the coalition countries are fighting for their VERY LIVES and could care less about those things, but will fight to their deaths to preserve the right of those at home to dworry about those things!

    Tell the Brits and other coalition partners that we shed our tears for their losses, just like they were our own, as they give their lives along side our troops. All for one and One for ALL! Save travels Michael!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andre · 12 years ago
    Thanks so much for honoring our fallen warriors. You and these brave men and women are the sort that have built and defended the greatest civlizations mankind has ever known. May God protect you all and bring you home safe and sound. Please send send my condolences to our British comrades. Though I think they talk funny :-), I have no doubt of their courage and commitment. Best regards.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    TARAKAI, Afghanistan — A group of Taliban fighters made their announcement in the bazaar of a nearby village a few days ago, and the word spread fast: anyone caught voting in the presidential election will have his finger — the one inked for the ballot — cut off.

    So in this hamlet in southern Afghanistan, a village of adobe homes surrounded by fields of corn, the local people will stay home when much of the rest of the country goes to the polls on Thursday to choose a president.

    "We can't vote. Everybody knows it," said Hakmatullah, a farmer who, like many Afghans, has only one name. "We are farmers, and we cannot do a thing against the Taliban."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob Root · 12 years ago
    by Rob Root

    Throughout their lives they tried,
    To fight for the way of the cause.
    In honorable ways they died,
    Yet we could not give pause.
    Now that the fight is done,
    Those that we cherish are safe.
    Our friends are gone...
    Did they seal their fate,
    So that we may endure,
    The things they held so dear?
    After all this time,
    We must try and make amends.
    Now is the time,
    To honor our fallen friends.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    OldSoldier54 · 12 years ago
    Great post, Mike. Never forget. Ever.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Shannon · 12 years ago
    Jeez, a CH-46. They were old when I joined the Marine Corps nearly 40 years ago. Talk about q flying antique.
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    Dimitris · 12 years ago
    The helli in the pictures is the CH-47 not the CH-46..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Donal · 12 years ago
    Prosaically, what you saw was electroluminescence. Sometimes known as the von Guericke effect, after the first man deliberately to produce it. Your title is better.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ErikZ · 12 years ago
    These are great photos, but they're pretty small. I'd love to see you publish these in a book someday.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    conrad wells · 12 years ago
    Thanks michael ,Im sorry to see people I used to know stilll there.But am glad that their story is being reported, and the guys I knew are still the blokes i used to know , still taking the urine out of each other while doing the job. I have no idea what they are going through, ( I left in 2002). If you see anybody who was in c.o.p, millenium tour or mortar platoon in blackpool say hi from machine.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ed Beimfohr · 12 years ago
    God bless you, Brother Yon, accept our thanks for your fine work and be brave. I am an old warrior, an ex-Marine Viet Nam combat vet, and know well the tortuous path trod by you and the courageous men and women whose stories you commemorate. My soul salutes them - Yank, Brit, and NATO alike - and you, and all those honorable enough to have gone before and who will go again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sam Perkins · 12 years ago
    A moving and inspiring piece. Thanks Mr. Yoh
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    Paul Quade · 12 years ago
    The static discharge already has a name; "Saint Elmo's Fire." It's been called that for centuries.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike H · 12 years ago

    I was struck by your dispatch; the very first name that appears on your list, Sgt Bill Cahir, fell last week in Afghanistan. He was a member of 4th CAG and a 40 year old Marine Sgt. His brother was a classmate of mine at State College High School and Bill and I are alumni of Penn State University. Bill is the third soldier of the sea from PSU to die in combat since 9/11; the first two were Lt. Michael Murphy USN/SEAL and Captain Todd Seibert, USMC.

    Bill left journalism after 9/11 to enlist in the Marine Corps at 4. He deployed to Iraq, fought in Fallujah and ran unsucessfully in the most recent PA Democrat primary in Pennsylvania. He was on his rd combat tour and left behind a wife pregnant with twins. He will be laid to rest at Arlington sometime next week.

    Thanks for everything that you do.

    Semper Fidelis.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    P. Ross · 12 years ago
    Michael, please consider adding some of these photos to your online store. I would love to buy a print.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    C.G.B. · 12 years ago

    Re: Helicopter Halo - you could call it the Hale Effect?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Rotramel · 12 years ago

    You might also want to post a couple of the clearer shots of the Chinook on Airliners.net, an aviation photography site that is widely viewed by aviation enthusiasts and a great way to help get the name into common usage.

    Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    PhilMB · 12 years ago
    St. Elmo's Fire runs actinic-white to blue; whereas these exhibit the typical heating paradigm of a meteor, going red-orange-yellow-white. I suspect it is more that the high-speed boundary layer of air on the rotors is creating dust particle meteor swarms as the particles are instantly heated to vaporization. I like Michael's name for it - the Kopp-Etchells Effect.

    And thank you Michael, for your travels in harm's way to provide us with a truthful and sobering view of this current conflagration. Please convey my thanks and prayers to them all, and that they safely return in glory.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 12 years ago
    Michael's chosen path to not only tell our Warrior's stories but to chronicle the battles and try and inform the world is something that few men in the history of the world have done and few have done as well as Michael Yon.

    Everyone who reads this needs to spread the word by email and by telling of Michael's Quest and Chronicles.

    Also everyone needs to remember that no one except his readers are supporting him. Everyone needs to encourage donations to Michael. I have not been able to give much through the years to Michael, but I have always considered it money well spent.

    I have two grandsons now in the Military, and one more chomping at the bit to become a United States Marine. So far my two who are serving are serving out of actual combat but that can change at any time and they stand ready to go.

    As previously stated, the vast majority of the world doesn't care about the wars or those that fight in them, even though without these men and women, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters the world would be a very terrible place for all of them...and us.

    So, make it your personal responsibility to get the word out and help Michael tell his stories and present his pictures to the world.

    You know it is the right thing to do.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chuck Cooksey · 12 years ago
    I have gotten your notes from a friend for a long time. I just wanted to tell you how much an old marine and Army guy respects your efforts. I will do what I can to continue to support our troops and our country and your efforts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Heffield · 12 years ago
    Michael, another dispatch that puts us on the dusty LZs of a country a world away, and moves us to carry the sadness of seeing fine men and women ground away by war. Thank you, friend, for connecting our hearts to them and helping us pause to embrace them across the miles, and into eternity.

    I bet your posts and pictures short out A LOT of keyboards.

    The copter pics are truly amazing, and the second to last especially so. You can almost see the cap and flowers left behind by the warrior heros.

    Maybe that's why they call them halo-copters.

    Stay safe, and keep shooting and posting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jjm · 12 years ago
    Kim and I spent time with Ben's family in the days before his mother made the decision to give him away. You will travel a very long distance and time to find another human being so full of love, life and grace as Jill. I was unable to attend the funeral at Arlington (was in Saudi Arabia), but Kim was there. Thanks for acknowedging CPL Kopp in the same way oyu do so many others.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sagman44 · 12 years ago
    Thank God there are such men. Thank God there are people like Yon to tell us about them.

    "Catherine wheel--a kind of firework supported on a pin which, when ignited, revolves rapidly and gives a dazzling display of light."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chase Kenyon · 12 years ago
    I sent the link to my brother Craig who was the team leader of the refueling ops for build up for Desert Storm along with many other missions. The extremely rare lead taknker driver who was also a qualified fighter pilot and stunt plane instructor with his own Pitts 6. He now drives MD-11s for FedEx.

    Our Father was a founding member of the American Heliicopter society and was instrumental in founding the first two attack helicopter squadrons in Korea. he worked for Sikorski, then NASA(when it was NACA) handling the initial research on rotor tips going supersonic in a dive. He then worked with Frank Piaseki as military liiason (Frank was my godfather) then for many years with Charles Kaman. When he finally retired from active reserves his mobilization billet was to take over as pres of the Naval War College. He passed on in June of 2008.

    "Dad would have appreciated the way this correspondent/Photographer handled this.



    Thank you for your dediication.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chase Kenyon · 12 years ago
    Yep First it was a Piaseki , Then a Chinook and they are still flying as the heavy load carriers of our soldiers.

    Proud to have it's original designer as my Godfather.


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