The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 7, 2013

Remembering 27 who didn’t return

By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
SNAP

Monday, January 7, 2013 — I spent a little time over the holidays looking back at some of the stories I’ve covered during the last three decades of my career.

I get really sentimental around New Year’s Day and it’s as good a time as any to reflect back and look forward.

There was one story in particular that I had tucked away in the memory banks, but haven’t dusted it off lately.

It was from a cold, sunny morning in December 2010.

I was sent to Fort Knox to cover the deployment ceremony of 3,500 young men and women who were preparing for a year’s stay on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

The grandstands were full of color and faces.

Those colors were the familiar red, white and blue and the faces were those of the family and friends of these troops who were one plane ride away from the rest of their lives.

While I can’t recall all the names of the soldiers I talked to, I remember one as clear as if it were yesterday.

As proud an American as I am, I would be the last one who could adequately submit myself to the punishing weather and way of life these soldiers have to endure. Not to mention, the idea you may never see home again.

But, I asked this one soldier about those very things.

“It’s just in our training,” I remember him responding. “We know what is ahead and we are ready for it.”

I had already spoken to their commander who said where these troops were going was probably the most dangerous area in which to be sent.

“You just can’t think about that,” the soldier told me. “Yeah, it’s always there in the back of your mind. But, you have to go do your job. We can’t let anything affect that.”

When I asked him if he was nervous about the flight they would take within a few hours, he said not at all.



“We’re excited, trained and ready to go,” he replied. “Although, I’m dreading that long plane ride.”

Having had the chance to fly in a military plane, I could understand that one.

I was only in one for a few hours and it is no luxury airliner.

I could not imagine the 12 to 14 hours these troops would have to endure on a bad plane ride to land in the middle of a hostile region from which they may not return.

But, I return to the enthusiasm and dedication I saw in these faces and heard in the voices who although 20 years younger than me demonstrated a matureness that far outweighed mine.

It recalled to me a quote from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II when he said, “Where do we find such men and women?”

As the troops made their ceremonial march in front of their commander, I was scurrying around trying to take all the pictures I could.

With every picture I took, I saw the faces. Those young faces and, while it may seem a morbid thought, I kept wondering, “Will that be the one who doesn’t come home?”

It’s been two years since I saluted the men and women of the Duke Brigade, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

Their mission ended a year ago, and so I began looking around on the Internet to see how their mission went.

And I found the answer I had asked two years ago.

27.

That’s how many of those bright-eyed, excited young people didn’t take that long plane ride home the way they hoped.

Their names now grace a monument only yards from the fields where they marched with such pride and determination on that cold December day.

Frustrating for me, I don’t have any way of knowing if any of those 27 were ones I talked to or saw eye-to-eye on that day.

It sort of sends a chill through me thinking about those young warriors and wondering.

Everyone always takes those special, set-aside days to salute those who serve our country in uniform.

Remembering that story and the 27 is a reminder they serve us every day.

Appreciating what they do and the sacrifices they make should also be an every day event for all of us.