20” x 16” • Oil on Canvas
Inspired by the experiences of Stacie Litsenberger
I wanted to know
by Stacie Litsenberger
17 July 2007
I was in the flight line at Mosul, Iraq, waiting for a flight to queue West. My trip was messed up. The “reservation” was all wrong but the soldiers at the PAX personnel terminal were willing to help out. They gave me a heads up that things might run late as there was an HR flight coming in. I asked – “what is HR?” They calmly and kindly replied, “Human Remains.”
It was about 2000hrs (8pm) – I went into the PAX and waited.
A Captain, around my age, started talking to me. He was completing a 15-6 investigation concerning the aviator who lost his life in Mosul a few weeks ago. He’d hit a wire in the city and the Kiawa aircraft went down. He said this is the fourth time this has happened in Mosul and how odd it is that it hasn’t happened in other cities such as Bagdad and Taji.
He then went on to tell another story. One of his best friends, a pilot during OIF II and three weeks away from completing his rotation, had hit a wire while flying in Mosul and lost his life. His wife was also in the military and just arrived into the theater from Kuwait. Crushing.
We talked about the war.
He spoke of the insurgents having too many options. They can go with us, the Iraqis, al quaeda, on and on. We needed to take away the options but how do we do that? He spoke about the US Army not knowing how to fight a war like this.
He had been in the Persian Gulf war as well. We bantered as to how the internet has impacted our ability to think and network. How we could move big units quickly during the Persian Gulf war. We laughed as we told these stories. Now we cannot move without an untold amount of paperwork and permission. Interesting….
He went to get coffee and I napped… my flight was called for roll-call. I moved my bags outside to the line.
It was a warm, beautiful night- so I laid down on the cement pad on my ruck. It was comfortable. Soldiers were talking in the dark. A Specialist chatted away to a Supply NCO. He is a war talker. The young Soldier boasts about his battalion commander explaining how he tells his Commander how it is. His Commander respects him because he gives good advice. They talk about the CAB (combat action badge) and what it means which leads to discussing the Bronze Star and awards with the Valor device.
They talked about TBI (traumatic brain injury) – it was interesting to listen.
The conversation shifted to IED (improvised explosive devices) events. Devastating.
Around 0030 at night the C-130 came into Mosul. The ceremony started to take place down the airfield from us. The Calvary Soldiers, who had been unseen in the dark until at that moment were called to attention and they marched half way out to the flight line. The C- 130 opened with the back end facing us. Four forklifts moved and parked along the sides of the plane with their lights on.
The Battalion streamers and color guard took formation along with the American flag. Two gun trucks slowly and silently drove out— as the Colors half marched to the C-130. Long streams of Soldiers formed two solid lines surrounding the colors and vehicles as they advanced toward the bird.
It was one of the most beautiful, heartfelt moments of my life. The quiet… dark… perfect respect, the lights of Mosul in the background. Soldiers in gray lines saying good-bye.
The flag-draped coffin was taken out of the C-130, then slowly turned around, “stars forward” by reverent fellow soldiers. The fallen soldier was taken past the standing lines. And appearing through the gaps of soldiers was Old Glory. Blue. White… and red.
There were no songs, no shouting, no sounds. Only soft, simple commands heard faintly in the otherwise shared, humbling silence.
In the long distance of the airfield, I caught a glimpes of my friend- Command Sergeant-Major Shultz standing at attention at the end of the memorial ceremony. I gasped as I did not know until that moment it was her unit I was watching. She looked so sad and tired – all I could do was wish I could give her a hug.
My flight was canceled- I gathered my gear and walked back into my FOB (forward operating base) Mosul life. As I walked I could hear a few whispers.
“It has been a tough few weeks – our second Soldier”.