I feel tremendously privileged to be a veteran. By that, I mean that I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to serve, and to serve in the capacities that I have. I’m not special. There are millions like me. There are millions of others who have never had the opportunity to serve. Those who wanted to, perhaps even tried to serve, and were denied for one reason or another. It’s an honor to have earned the right to know that I am a veteran. It’s an honor to feel included in the meaning of today.
It’s an honor to have taken part in history, to watch it unfold around me and to try to influence its outcome by my efforts. What others read about… or never realized was happening… I got to participate in. I was lucky in that I had assignments that brought me closer to that. We most often do not get to choose the role that we wind up in when we’re deployed. I’m grateful that I wound up in roles that I don’t regret and I’ll never forget. I got to do and see things that were so incredible, some of it even sounds unbelievable. I was lucky. I never got a scratch from the Taliban.
It’s an honor to have walked with heroes. In August of 2007, in the Tagab Valley of Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, then-Major Bill Myer was in the commander’s seat of his Humvee with his small column of Afghan National Police (ANP) in their Ranger pickups moving along a road at the base of a mountainous ridge. When his column was attacked from the high ground with automatic weapons, the ANP could not remain in the thin-skinned vehicles. They dismounted and took cover in the ditches along the road. The Afghans were not exactly organized in their response, but they did not break and run.
Major Myer dismounted from his vehicle, under fire, rallied and gathered up the ANP… and attacked. He attacked, up a mountain, into the fire; and the ANP followed him. Their attack broke the ambush and the Taliban fled. Major Myer and his ANP chased them until they lost their trail in a village… where they were served tea.
I’ve seen Bill Myer scared. You could tell when he was scared because he’d be grinning uncontrollably. No matter how much he was grinning, he was doing what he knew to be the best thing for him to do under the circumstances. He never failed to act. He never froze. He never panicked, and he never hid. I’ll never forget serving with him. It is an honor to have served with him. For the action I did my best to briefly describe above, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V device.
That same month, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Brian O’Neill was moving down a road, again the lone American vehicle with a small column of ANP. On a narrow road running across a steep hillside, the column was taken under fire with machine guns and RPG’s. The ANP dismounted, took cover and returned fire. SFC O’Neill dismounted and worked to help organize the ANP response. One ANP RPG gunner moved forward and took aim with his rocket launcher. When he fired, the round malfunctioned. The explosive warhead detonated in the tube, leaving his shattered body in the middle of the road but miraculously not killing him.
SFC O’Neill broke cover and ran out onto the fire-swept road to the ANP soldier’s crumpled body. He quickly assessed the man’s wounds and dragged him towards the cover of the Humvee, where he could be treated. SFC O’Neill’s quick treatment of life-threatening injuries saved not only the soldier’s life, but his left arm as well. SFC O’Neill knew that he had to get the man to a hospital as quickly as possible. After applying a tourniquet and treating a sucking chest wound, he fought to gain fire superiority and withdraw from the kill zone. He had to get the ANP, at least the drivers, to get back into the thin-skinned Rangers and move with him out of the kill zone. SFC O’Neill extracted his entire force without any further casualties and got the severely wounded Afghan soldier to the MEDEVAC point in time to save his life. SFC O’Neill was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V device for his actions that day.
SFC O’Neill would be the first to tell you that if never gets shot at again, he’d be perfectly happy. He’d tell you that he was scared. Again, no matter how scared he was, he always did what he needed to be done. He never broke. He never ran. He never hid. There is no one I’d rather have by my side in any such situation. Led by a grinning Bill Myer.
Those are two of the heroes that I have had the privilege to work with. On Veterans Day, I remember that I am honored to have walked with men and women who are some of the finest, bravest, most honorable people alive. I have gotten to see men tested to the limits of their training and personalities, and I have seen those who have shone under the harshest of lights.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, has been and remains an honor and a privilege.
Old Blue is another retired Senior NCO from the Army like Bouhammer and the two have been friends for about eight years, ever since Old Blue was on the heels of Bouhammer in a deployment to Afghanistan and started writing award-winning blogs. Old Blue has multiple tours both embedded with Afghan Forces and at the COIN Academy in Kabul. They have have been co-writers on blogs together and have both done their best to educate America on what it is like to serve in Afghanistan along-side Afghan Security Forces.