Well, tonight is a difficult night. I live in a home that has an amazing view of the river. It sits on a bluff overlooking the mountains and the city. Most days I love the view and I love that I can see all around my area. Tonight, though, I am leaning towards moving away. You see my house also has a great view of the local airport. Normally, this doesn’t bother me. It is a small regional airfield that services small craft, rather infrequently. But it also now houses the local life-helicopters. For whatever reason, they are just sitting at the airport with the rotors turning, and I can’t seem to block it out. Just hearing it takes me straight back to Iraq. My CHU (container housing unit) was right on the edge of the airfield and all day and night I would hear helicopters. Sitting and warming up, taking off, landing. And that was when I was on down-time. When my unit was moving around, we would have to ride on those helicopters and would spend all night in and around them. So now, when I hear that very familiar sound, I close my eyes and it seems like I am right back there. I know I’m not, but part of me seems to think I am. I can almost smell the sand and the petroleum smoke. I guess it just reminds me of things that I’d rather not remember too, like the night we took a helicopter up to Mosul to provide a memorial service for a BiTT team member that we had lost. What a horrible day. We had started that morning having breakfast with our team on the Syrian border after a great week long visit. Since this was one of our most remote teams, they hadn’t had Chaplain services in quite sometime. That morning we waited for a helicopter to take us back to our home base at COB Speicher to rest and reset before going back out on our battlefield circulation. It had been a long tour, we had decided to hit all of our remote teams and had been gone longer than our usual due to weather and distance. That morning our team was going to be taking a convoy trip off their post and waited until we left to head out. Our helicopter picked us up and away we went on the very long trip back to Speicher. I remember getting back sometime in the later afternoon and heading back to our chapel and by brigade to get mail and set up meetings for our next itinerary. We had dinner and were just getting ready to get some well-earned down time when we received a communication from division. Our team had taken casualties and one servicemen had been killed. The division general routed his personal helicopter and we were sent to Mosul to meet with the team to send our fallen brother home. Something that is important to understand is that these small Transition teams were only 12 Soldiers strong, and my 2 man chaplain unit was responsible for all teams in Northern Iraq, about 35 teams. We had just spent a week with this team and when we landed to meet them in Mosul, they were noticeably in shock and pain. SSG Ryan Zorn had been killed. It remains my greatest honor that his team asked me to be one of his pall-bearers to send him on his honor flight home. We walked the casket of this Soldier that we had just had breakfast with that morning and placed him on a flight that would ultimately take him home to his mother. The whole base in Mosul came out to honor this fallen Soldier and upon the plane taking off for Dover, they marched back to their rooms and to their duties. And my Chaplain and I went to ours. It took less than 24 hours for me and my Chaplain to prepare and perform a memorial service, but it took days to do the critical incident debriefing with our team. My job was to run interference and do the logistics and admin responsibilities so that the team could grieve and receive vital counseling. And all the while, we were on that damn airfield with those helicopters warming up, taking off, landing…We spent 96 hours with the team and I don’t remember sleeping much, I just had so much to do and it felt better to work and move than think about how fragile our lives can be in combat. Man, I hate the sound of helicopters now. Reminds me of things I’d rather not think about and takes me back to places I never want to go again.
RIP SSG Zorn,