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Silent Sentinels: The Long Camoulflage Line!
By Myles V Saulibio   

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Afghanistan Dispatch: A Fallen Comrade Going Home

I started out that day in a rather indifferent, almost hate-filled mode.

The late night alarm for in-coming mortar fire saw me in cold, dusty bunker, waiting for the "All Clear" sound. Later, my co-workers filed in and out of my workspace, leaving me no peace and quiet. Peace and quiet I thought I deserved more than anyone else.

I looked at my daily planner and cringed at the amount of  stuff to do. The pages looked like a sloppy garden filled with weeds. And I kept pouring on more weeds.

Then an inspirational message caught my eye. US Army General and former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote, "...Through unity of action we can be a veritable one can defeat us unless we first defeat ourselves. Everyone one of us must be guided by this truth..."

It was like the good General smacked me between my eyeballs and left an indelible mark. Well, I decided to decide. Life on the sprawling Forward Operating Base (FOB) was not going to get the best of me.

Then things changed when I changed. Outside the window I heard laughter and talking. Birds chirped their signs of happiness. A gentle breeze caressed the sky above and the scorched wintry mountains below. I had a different outlook now. Just like that.

And just like that came the announcement over the base-wide loud-speakers: "Fallen Comrade ceremony in 'O Dark Thirty'..."

The announcement sent chills through my body. Chills from internalized questions like, "How many this time?," and "Did I know them?," and "Where were they from?"  I groped for answers that never came. Only silence and the quiet breeze would greeted me.

Along both sides of the main dusty road, soldiers gathered one at a  time, then in groups. The dirt road was approached by other smaller dirt roads which wound about by minefields and under scrappy, twisted and gnarled tree stumps laid barren of any branches due to the harsh winter and even brutal battles of ricocheting bullets. 

Each person stood silently. They stood not reluctantly, but out of a sense of pride and quiet respect for the fallen comrade. Like silent sentinels, each person stole a glance at the roadway, waiting and watching for the military vehicle carrying the fallen warrior. Then each silent sentinel held their individual weapons and hand-saluted in silent tribute in precision wave-like fashion as the vehicle passed by with a flag draped iron casket.

Through the early morning mist, I felt something strange. As if someone was watching me. There, across the road, was an individual who grab my eyes like strong magnets.

He stood silently, his salute still strong and tall while everyone around him began to leave and go back to work. Our eyes met briefly and he turned away. His uniform was ragged, probably because he just came in from the field.

He then turned his face towards me and smiled. It was a genuine and innocent smile. I smiled back. In a brief moment, we connected. And in a brief moment he was gone after a group of soldiers walked in front and past him.  But not before I saw his name tag, sewed on the rear part of his cap.

"It's  done man," said one soldier solemnly with a the trickle of a tear drop glistening on his battle weary face. "It's not fair. He's going home though and I bet he gave them a good firefight."

It was worth my while to step out of my self-imposed pity party and into the road to welcome a fallen comrade.I wondered who he was, some husband, a brother, or a young son? An answer was not appropriate nor given.

A few days later, I spoke with my friend who also paid his respects on the road. He noticed I was bothered about something and he asked me why. I told him about the person I saw on the road and tried to tell him more. "What person?," he asked. There was no one there---it's a minefield. "Are you sure?" I asked persistently. "Why, yes," said my friend. "Here's the base map with the minefield symbols."

Disbelieving what I just heard, I remembered scribbling the soldier's name tag on a piece of paper which matched the name of the fallen soldier in a newspaper article.

I tried t o discard the incident on the dusty road but the odd feeling intensified over the coming days. No one has ever revealed the true reason for this "apparition" and will more than likely remain a mystery for me during Operation Enduring Freedom, that one odd morning in Afghanistan.

Could it be? On that dusty road in Afghanistan, I learned that through our "unity of action", the Fallen Comrade ceremony, that there was a miracle final goodbye from one of our own. Then, I found that momentary inner peace and quiet from a silent goodbye.


Copyright 2011 by Myles Saulibio. All rights reserved.

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