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NEWS | Jan. 15, 2010

Even in a war zone, life can bloom

By Ch. (Capt.) Gary Davidson 316th chaplain

It was my first deployment as a military rabbi to Afghanistan, outwardly to celebrate Hanukkah with other Jewish personnel. Yet, despite the joyous holiday celebration, my most vivid memories center on other experiences at Bagram Air Base. I'd like to share some of these memories with you.

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles -- I had never seen an MRAP before, but the base had plenty of them. One look at these behemoths and you'd think they were completely safe. One Army Soldier told me that while on a convoy, his MRAP hit an improvised explosive device and the blast knocked him unconscious. He smiled, though, telling me that he was glad to still be alive and to be able to go out on convoys so as to defend his country. "Hmm ... " I thought to myself, "this guy's an unsung hero, but he probably doesn't know it."

Army Private Chris Clancy -- I met 28-year-old Private Clancy from the Georgia National Guard near the end of my deployment. He told me about four fire-fights he had been in while in northern Afghanistan. The firefights lasted between a half hour and four hours and were intense. I asked Private Clancy why he joined the military in the first place. He told me he did it in memory of the victims of 9/11, and that he was willing to sacrifice his life for them. Hmm ... Another unsung hero.

The Lady in the Red Burka -- I was allowed to visit one of the base's perimeter towers where Airmen were keeping careful watch over the entry control point. Using their binoculars, I focused on some of the neighboring villages where Afghanis in traditional garb walked along the dusty streets, sidewalks and nearby fields. I was transfixed by the sight of a woman in a bright red burka. The colorful material flapped slow-motion in the wind, and stood out against others' drab clothing and the dull background of stone walls, dirt and rubble. I thought to myself, "Even in a war zone, life can bloom."

The Base Hospital -- While visiting the base hospital, I came across a group of special operations personnel who had been in a serious fire-fight with insurgents the previous day. One of these heroes was clinging to life on a ventilator. While quietly gazing at him from the foot of his bed, a group of military personnel entered the room and conducted a short purple-heart ceremony, whereby the medallion was gingerly placed on the unconscious man's pajama top. Other special ops members (also wounded in the fire-fight) came to their friend's bedside and whispered supportive words into his ear. After leaving the room, I went to visit nearby Afghani children who had been injured by playing with bright, shiny unexploded ordnance in their villages. Several children were burned, some had shrapnel wounds and others were missing limbs. A translator conveyed my prayers for good health and a long life. I then offered each child a piece of candy with the nurse's approval. One 7-year-old boy who was missing an arm took the chocolate, ate it, and gave me a half-smile and thumbs up with his remaining hand. At the end of the visit, the boy's father (who was watching me the whole time), placed his hand over his heart, bowed slightly toward me, and conveyed through the translator his deep appreciation for the visit.

Having recently returned to Andrews, I still think about these experiences. I share these stories with the reader knowing full well that many of you have your own deployment tales to tell. In the end, though, no matter what kind of experiences we have abroad, we probably touched someone else's life or someone else touched our life. In my case, I was inspired by several unsung heroes, and I (hopefully) touched the lives of a few individuals as well. In today's War on Terror, it's nice to know that life can still bloom, whether it's someone else's or our own.