The Burden of Command

20120914-125426.jpgTwo weeks ago was the third anniversary of Pedro 66. Mike Flores, Ben White, and Joel Gentz are still gone but never forgotten. In the past weeks, as I anticipated the day, I reminisced about a couple things – doing a “backcountry” travel day with Flo and the guys up on Mt Lemmon in some truly awful snow conditions; Ben showing up at the 48th with a busted leg and me telling him to heal up because the unit needed him; and driving in to Shaw AFB the morning of June 9th, 2010, and hearing an NPR report about a helicopter shot down in Afghanistan.

But what’s been most on my mind is how something like Pedro 66 begins to fit into the narrative of my life and career. I’ve been in this business for 14 years now, and all my career I heard other officers talk about this thing called “the burden of command.” As it was explained to me, it meant all or some of the following:

– You’re the first to show up to work and the last to leave

– You’re the guy who takes the blame when things go bad, but get none of the credit when things go right

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Moon Dust

It feels like it was yesterday, that hot August day in Afghanistan 11 years ago. I laced up my shoes and headed out of what eventually become known as Camp Cunningham, in honor of PJ Jason Cunningham, on Bagram Air Base. Made a right on Disney, and continued past the Task Force compound on my left, the abandoned Spanish area on my right, and finally the former UK compound I would occasionally use in the future for source meetings.

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Remembering Pedro 66

Mike and Ben

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 Continue reading