In honor of Veterans Day, we would like to share this reflection from Jesse Kangas. Jesse is a homeschool graduate and captain in the U.S. Army.
“One, two, three …”
I whispered the numbers on a cold night in December 2013 in northeastern Afghanistan, wondering if I would reach 10.
“Eight, nine, 10.”
I let out a sigh of relief. The indirect fire alarm (IDF) had ceased. No more incoming mortar or rocket attacks were expected … at least, not for the present.
This had become almost a daily ritual for me during the autumn months and into the winter. My unit was stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank in the Logar Province. We were a Movement Control Team (MCT) supporting retrograde operations, or the logistical pull-out of our army from the area.
In other words, we helped oversee the operating of rotary wing, fixed wing, and ground transportation from one of the largest retrograde FOBs in Afghanistan.
Our FOB had earned the nickname “Rocket City” for the amount of mortar fire it received. It was a rather unpleasant place, about 2 miles wide and a few miles long.
The amenities boasted two dining facilities (DFACs), a gym supplemented with several other small locations of exercise equipment, several local shops selling food, fake Rolex’s, and counterfeit Dr. Dre headphones, and a small chapel.
Gordon Ramsey would have difficulty competing with the daily fare we had the privilege to eat at the DFACs. I dropped 15 lbs. the first two months I was there because of this delicious sustenance.
I should be clear that while my conditions were not ideal, we were fobbits. Fobbits are soldiers who do not go outside the wire. We do not directly engage the enemy unless somehow they infiltrate their way onto our FOB.
For most civilians in America, we lived in hell. For most soldiers who have served in the conflicts throughout Iraqistan (a term for Iraq or Afghanistan), we had bad days, but everyone came home without significant physical injury.
Our mission there was a unique challenge, and still is for those serving in Afghanistan. Find a way to bring home over a decade’s worth of equipment. We were attempting the largest retrograde in the history of warfare.
My unit alone assisted in facilitating the movement of well over $1 billion worth of equipment. Our situation changed daily based upon decisions made in D.C., and we kept a close eye on the forces agreement as it was unknown if or when our base would close.
Throughout my tour, I was constantly challenged to find innovative solutions to complex problems, engage with individuals from every U.S. military branch, contractors, local nationals, and a myriad of other militaries and individuals from around the globe.
Handling conflict became a weekly ritual if not more frequent. Stress levels were elevated, living conditions austere, and my wife was pregnant with our second child.
It was during this experience that a subconscious thought came to the forefront of my mind. I love America and all that it stands for – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
While I missed my family dearly, I knew that I had left them in the greatest country on earth.
We have the opportunity to freely pursue whatever religion, education system, and career that we want. My parents had the opportunity to educate us in the manner they best saw fit. Each of my siblings and I have the freedom to pursue a career in whatever fields we desire.
I am grateful for all the brave men and women who have gone before me to allow me to experience life in the way God intended it to be.
I pray that I will have the courage to lead my family in the same way, and to serve my country in such a manner as will glorify my heavenly Father, and give credence to all that the founding fathers lived and died to embody and protect.
We have updated this blog post, originally published in November 2014 for Veterans Day, for timeliness and detail.