I’m pretty sure everyone who reads this blog knows why I wear the bracelet in this photo. If you’re new, it’s my way of remembering two PJs who at one time, worked under my command, and perished when their USAF rescue helicopter, call sign “Pedro 66” was shot down on June 9th, 2010. Mike Flores and Ben White weren’t the only ones who died that day, either. Dave Wisniewski, Dave Smith, and Joel Gentz, the first CRO to die in combat; none of them came home that day. When I found out, I had moved to another job in South Carolina, and I worked deployed USAF rescue issues. I got into the office, and one of the guys sat me down and told me we lost one of our helos, and some PJs were dead. I made some calls, and learned that Mike and Ben were gone.
Sometimes I wonder why I took it so hard. I wasn’t super close to either. Mike was one of my troops for well over a year, but Ben had just shown up to the unit before I left, so I didn’t know him that well. At the end of the day, all I can come up with is shared experience of the beret. We’re all cut from the same cloth, PJs and CROs. We sweat and bleed and drown through nearly two years of chest-beating attrition. We are the 7% percent who make it from start to finish. Some like to compare us to the Green Berets, SEALs, or whatever. But to be honest, there is no comparison. There are only a couple of hundred of us vs. the thousands of Green Berets and SEALs. And where those guys have dozens of different missions to train for, we have one: Save Lives. We’re apples to their oranges, and that’s all there is to it. So when one goes down, we all feel it. It’s impossible not to.
Too, I think of my guys on the other helicopter, watching their team mates crash, then going in to rescue their own. I think what it must be like to see a guy with whom maybe you were just sitting around with at the Tactical Ops Center. Maybe you were eating some merms, playing some xBox, or just sitting around BS’ing. The call comes, you kit up, and run to the helicopters: there’s work to be done. Maybe on the way in, you do a radio check with the team on the other bird, hear their voices coming calm through your headset: I have you Lima Charlie. And then things go horribly wrong. The last words you hear from Pedro 66 are from the pilot, saying, “I’m hit. We’re going in.” You see the aircraft crash, but you have to bury all the emotion. Because now, all the training you’ve done for anonymous incidents and events has become entirely personal. Saving lives takes on a whole new meaning when it’s one of your own. So, that’s what you do. You cut your friends from the burning wreckage and pull the surviving aircrew from the hulk. You put your friends in body bags, the living on litters and do your best to keep them alive. All the while understanding that the enemy is ready to do to you what they did to your friends. Then it’s over, but see, it really isn’t. You get to live with this shit the rest of your life.
I guess maybe when you roll all this stuff together, I understand a little better why I took it so hard. I just felt it.
At the time, I was a couple of weeks out from Grandma’s Marathon, and when 66 went down, I wasn’t sure I could do the race any more. I’d suffered some training setbacks and some injuries, and 66 kind of put me over the edge. I was an absolute mess at the memorial, and while there’s no reason to be ashamed, I guess sometimes I think I didn’t earn the right to be so broken-up about it. At some point, I realized that the best way to honor Mike and Ben was to continue on with racing. If you’ve never read my race report, you can do so here. It was a pretty meaningful day for me, and I hope you get that in reading the race report.
Today’s the two year anniversary of Pedro 66, and I’m still not sure what it all means. I know I have a very small part in all of it, but not a day goes by where I don’t think of Mike and Ben, or my buddy Doug on trail, in some way. Sometimes, I’ll think about Mike, or “Flo,” as we called him, and it’s hard to imagine him gone. In the fall of 2009, from my new job in SC, I ended up in Afghanistan at the same time as my old unit in Tucson, so I went out to FOB Bastion to see how the guys were doing. I spent a few hours playing Halo on the xBox 360 with the boys, and Flo was a frigging ninja at Halo. Under the handle “Flo Nasty,” we simply slayed and sniped us all. I played under a decidedly un-PC moniker, “SquintyIdMother,” and at one point I think I even tried going head-to-head with Flo Nasty, with disastrous results. He killed me about 20 times, and just kind of chuckled in his typically understated way. It was incredibly frustrating and funny at the same time, and after a while I called Uncle and retired.
It’s a happy memory for me. Not a heavy deal, not a lot of meaning attached to the shared experience of a video game. Just two brothers having fun.
Flo Nasty: we miss you buddy. Blue skies to you all.