Meet a Couple of Heroes
Hero is one of those terms which comes up often in reporting about the military. Not every service member is a hero nor is every hero we encounter in our lives associated with the military. I point this out because the label “hero” is at risk of becoming a meaningless cliche as we approach the first decade of what will be a very long war. But I have a couple of hero’s I’d like to introduce as an innovative way to talk about the fog of war as well as the price being paid by the people fighting this conflict on our behalf.
Over a year ago my Dad sent me an email telling me one of my former students from the Infantry Officer Course was at the Tampa VA hospital recovering from a severe gunshot wound. LtCol Ty Edwards was the senior Embedded Training Team leader, mentoring the Afghan Army’s 2/2 Kandak. He and his command group were traveling with an American Army re-supply mission out of FOB Bostick in October 2008 up in the Nuristan Province. The following narrative was provided to Leatherneck Magazine three days after the incident by 1stLt Sean McQuiston and is extracted from an article which can be found here.
“I heard RPG fire ahead of me, but I couldn’t see any bad guys. But I saw the Army humvees ahead of me firing on a hill about 300 meters off to my 2 o’clock, so I swung my turret over and shot maybe 50 rounds in support.
“The Army humvees then drove off, which is their TTP (tactics, techniques and procedures), while the ANA dismounted from their trucks and hugged a berm to the right of us. The ANA vehicles are unarmored; you can’t fight from them. Lieutenant Colonel Edawards jumped out and wnet forward to work with the ANA. I’m still up in the turret, putting out rounds. There’s machine-gun fire coming in on us, but it’s not heavy. But suddenly it increased, and I got hit in the left arm.”
And here is where we enter into the fog of war. The fire increased on the Marines and their ANA unit because the Army had left the kill zone. That is what they had been trained to do and even when mounted in armored vehicles it is a sound tactical move. All armored vehicles are vulnerable to fire plunging down onto the top of them; sticking around in a kill zone can be risky. The Army unit leading the convoy were not responsible for the ANA vehicles; their job was to move supplies through an area where contact with the enemy was a frequent occurrence. They reacted the way they always react and clearly would not have kept going with their mission if they had known what was unfolding behind them. LtCol Edwards reacted the way he had been trained to do too. He went forward into the fire to lead the troops he had been sent to mentor because that is what infantry leaders do. With the fire now concentrated on him and his crew he did not make it far and went down when he was hit in the head. Ty was out of the fight, exposed in the open and helpless as a baby; he would not wake up until weeks later. There is no fault to be assessed, no blame to be apportioned there is just the fog of war which will never be lifted from the face of battle no matter how much technology we field.
His interpreter, who will soon be immigrating to the United States, was the first to reach him and apparently shielded Ty as Lt McQuiston rallied the ANA to put out suppressive fire and the senior corpsman was able to work his way to him. The Army QRF from Bostick came in behind a curtain of heavy weapons fire to grabbed the wounded and they rapidly got Ty into the medical evacuation system. Lots of heroic men and women did heroic things to keep Ty alive and allow him a chance to recover. But these kind of heroics happen here everyday. Quick Reaction Forces (QRF’s) thunder off the FOB’s into harms way all the time and they are manned by men (and for the NATO forces) women from a number of countries who all demonstrate fortitude and bravery. It comes with the job and is, in some respects, easy to do when part of a good unit. What is hard is to sustain the virtues of the effective infantry leader for a lifetime when fate deals you a bad hand.
Those of us who know Ty and understand his background expect him to run out into the fire to rally men under his charge (regardless of their nationality). That is not terribly impressive to us. What is impressive is to see him now. Ty got hit, he lost the use of the right side his body, his speech is impaired but his mind is sharp and the left side of his body gets stronger as week in and week out he exceeds the goals established by his physical therapist. He will walk again, of that I’m certain but it is going to take years of blood sweat and tears to get there. Ty is on a mission. He has children to raise and a wife to emotionally support so he has to demonstrate by personal example, every day, how a good man overcomes hardship, how a winner never quits, and why it is important to live like a Marine regardless of severe physical limitations imposed in the prime of life.
I was trading emails with an old friend who had been the battalion surgeon for 1st Battalion 8th Marines back in the early 90’s when I was the operations officer. My buddy Barney is a big lib which was great because we were a hard deploying unit and there is nothing better than having a smart guy like Barney around who would argue with me for hours about politics and modern culture. He was a great advocate for his side despite being wrong 100% of the time in my humble estimation. Even better (and what can be better than having your own lib to argue with) he could suck up bad weather and long hikes while maintaining a sense of humor which made him an especially valuable medical officer. When our conversation turned to friends in harms way I told him about Ty and also that my Dad visits Ty every week when he goes in for physical therapy. Barney wrote back the following:
My observation is that with time dedication to tragedy fades among most—except those directly touched (9/11 comparison here in NY).
That comment by Barney got me to thinking about my Dad and how happy I was that he makes this weekly visit with Ty. Much as Ty reacted by instinct that fateful October day two years ago my Dad too responded by instinct when notified via the retired Marine chain that there was a fallen infantry officer who would benefit greatly from a visit. The reason this makes me happy is that I love my Dad and I know as we talk over how Ty is doing during our not frequent enough phone calls that my Dad is benefiting from this relationship as much if not more than Ty is. Like Ty my Dad lives by a code which is easy to understand but very hard to follow. Staying true; demonstrating strength in the face of adversity, endurance when faced with unending commitments; living by the code without complaint or hesitation…it is a beautiful thing to witness.
I’m sorry my former student and brother Devil Dog was shot but I don’t feel sorry for him. I feel awe at how well he faces this trail without complaint, struggling every day to set the example for his children, his wife and his fellow Marines. He is taking on an increasingly heavier load of reading and correspondence which will eventually lead him back into gainful employment. He will walk again.
Many of us in the profession of arms are asked to step into the hero’s role for a brief period of time, its part of the job. Very few of us are asked to take that mantle permanently and all of us are afraid that when called in such manner we will be found wanting. Ty has been called, he has not been found wanting and like a true hero is contributing positive karma to the people in his life. One of them is my Dad and for that I am truly grateful.