Winner Of The Losers

One man's life experiences and lessons


Posted by admin On May - 31 - 2012

Below is a piece I wrote coming home one night with seven heros from Afghanistan — a night I will not forget.  Ironically — I don’t even know any of their names — but I will not forget them.  Ed

SEVEN HEROS by Lt Col Edgar J. LaBenne
There are 19 of us leaving Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan tonight.  I know no one else on this flight.  I’m sure some have been here for one-year deployments and on their way home.  One is a doctor from Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany with his surgical equipment I saw during the customs inspection.  I’m sure he was only here for a couple days as he is in green BDU (Battle Dress Uniform), which is very very rare to see down range in Afghanistan or Iraq, as everyone else is in desert BDU.  I’m one of the lucky ones, only 9 days on a TDY in Kabul, Afghanistan supporting NATO.  Most US personnel do 6 or 12 months and there is rarely a day off, it is a constant pace, 12-14 hr days minimum.  On our flight, there are mostly military, but there are also a few civilian contractors.

It is nearly 0445 hrs (4:45 am) in the morning, and it is chilly out.  A 10-ton forklift inches toward the rear of a McChord C-17 with a 463L pallet full of our gear.  We march in two columns from behind the aircraft.   Inside the C-17 it is completely illuminated as the crew prepares for take off and I can see the red and white boxes in the front of the aircraft, forward of three pallets.  Four hours earlier during roll call, we were briefed we will be traveling back to Germany non-stop with wounded soldiers from Iraq and HR.  HR stands for human remains.  Not sure why they use that term.  Seems rather cold to me.  I like hero better, that is what I would prefer.

We wait for the side door to open near the nose of the aircraft.  We all know we have dead Americans from Iraq, but no one knows how many.  Everyone is quiet as we board the aircraft one by one.  Now I can see the stars and bars so nicely draping the cases.   They are anchored down to the floor.  There are seven heroes tonight, silent.

We quietly find seats.  No matter what seat you take, you face the in side of the aircraft and can see all the cargo and the seven heroes. We have seven heroes, who we probably have never met, but we are bound by our service to our country.  They too are in formation, two by two, with the solo seventh.  Three feet in front of me during the entire flight home is one of my comrades in arms, the solo seventh.

You cannot help but wonder:  Is he married?  Does he have kids?  How did he die?  Just yesterday I saw a headline on the CNN website that seven died in Iraq in one attack.  Are these the seven?  There are no faces tonight, just the stars and bars.  Each one returns home equal tonight, there is no rank except hero.

As we get ready to fly, I know there are so many people now waiting this moment in the US for their return, some call them son, grandson, uncle, dad, husband, brother, coach or friend.  I’ll call them heroes tonight.

I’m confident, all 19 of us are reflecting inside on these seven heroes.   How it could be one of us and about the families we have back home.  Personally I do not want to ask the question “Why?”, because there are no easy answers.  As we return home, we all have respect for the dead, but also an appreciation for life.  Our life.  My life.

In a few hours, I will see my kids, ages 6 and 8, Mary and Joshua.  They will ask me about my airplane ride, “How many planes did you take?  Who did you go with Daddy?”  All I will tell them is:  “Only one plane, but I was with seven heroes last night and it was a great flight home!”  And then I’ll give them another long hug, kiss and tell them how much I love them.  Tonight I’ll offer more prayers for my seven heroes and all those who have made the final ride home covered in stars and bars.




—–Original Message—–
From: Judy Andrews
Sent: 08 December 2004 23:46
 7 heroes


Lt. Col. LaBenne:

My name is Judith Andrews and a friend forwarded me your story about your trip to Afghanistan.  I was quite touched by it.  You see, I am the wife of one of those who died in service to our country 3 years ago.  My husband, MSGT Evander E. Andrews, was the first U.S. service member to die in Operation Enduring Freedom.  He died 10 Oct 01 and at his funeral, our son, age 9, was overheard saying my dad is a hero.  Too many today do not see these men and women as heroes, but as those who died in vain.  My heart bleeds and breaks every time I hear that, for I know my husband did not die in vain.  While his death wasn’t in combat, he was in CE and his death was due to an accident, he was there in support of our fight on terrorism.  The Air Force did name the camp he was helping to build, at the time of his death, after him; Camp Andy.  We are proud of him and his service to his country.  Thank you for your thoughts and respect for our fallen.


Judith Andrews

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