The Good Don’t Always Die Young

The Godfather of Free Range International – the man who pioneered the techniques, tactics and procedures we use to travel in remote districts was executed last week in Badakhshan Province. Dan Terry had been living in Afghanistan with his family for decades.  He was fluent in both Dari and Pashto, and despite knowing him for over 5 years, I don’t know really much more about him other than he was a humble man who was not comfortable talking about himself. I met Dan in 2005 when he was in Kabul through my physician friend Dr Keith Rose who also volunteers his expertise in Afghanistan. I learned later he was in town because he had brought in several children for free cleft palate surgery provided by the excellent CURE hospital in Kabul where they were his wife Seija head the nursing department. Dan was a religious man who used his love of God as inner strength to help lift up the poor he chose to live among – he had no interest in recounting his years of aid work for attention or pay.

When we were starting out in the security business he taught us how to operate safely, how easy it was to travel around the country (as long as you didn’t have big armored SUV’s) and how to seek food and shelter in remote districts if we ended up on foot for some reason. Dan taught how to operate as a westerner in Afghanistan; be true to your word, speak openly, greet warmly, and always smile.

om right to left Dan Terry, Dr. Keith Rose, and one of Dan's Drivers. This photo is a few years old and taken in front of the CURE hospital. Dr. Rose is one of those self funded doctors (in his case a plastic surgeon who fixes cleft palates and builds ears and noses for kids who had theirs removed by the Taliban) volunteering at the CURE hospital in Afghanistan.
One of the volunteer surgeons and Dan Terry outside the CURE hospital in 2006.

The story  about his loss broke yesterday after authorities recovered the remains of Dan and seven international doctors who had conducted an eye clinic in Nuristan Province. The team decided to take the longer, harder route back to Kabul through Badakshan Province because that part of the country is relatively free of Taliban gangs.

Press reports indicated that the local people warned Dan and Tom Little (team lead and another friend who’s been here for more than 3 decades) that the woods they were going to camp in were not safe but they went as planned telling the people they were doctors and that the Taliban would not molest them. That last fact has been true for many years in Afghanistan. Despite this precedent the Taliban claimed credit for this multiple murder but I find that hard to believe. Afghan Taliban groups don’t do that to western doctors who are traveling in harms way, unarmed and unafraid, to treat people in remote districts. At least they never have before.

Dan’s wife Seija is the director of nursing at CURE international and also makes long trips into the bad lands to bring modern midwife techniques to a population of women facing the highest childbirth mortality rate in the world. Dan and Seija, who raised their daughters in Afghanistan, worked for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries which is an ecumenical NGO based in Central Asia.

There are few men as selfless, patient, kind or as good as Dan Terry. So often it seems in life and especially in war that the good go first. Dan wasn’t a young man, he had lived a long life but he was, to all who knew him, a good man.

Dan was exceptionally gifted at operating outside the wire in the most remote areas of Afghanistan. He was the Godfather of Free Rangers and now we are forced to determine if the deteriorating security situation is going to allow us to or operate in the open. Clearly Dan thought he had a solid plan to get in and out of Nuristan Province. This time the plan failed and the manner in which his team was murdered portends poorly.  This is yet another indicator of how fast the security situation is changing in Afghanistan.  If there is any indication that things will turn around soon I’m not seeing it. Goodbye and God Bless to Dan and his crew…we are better people for having known you.

36 Replies to “The Good Don’t Always Die Young”

  1. We read this in horror yesterday. I am sure more details will come out over the next few weeks. The impact he had on Afghanistan over the long haul can’t be underestimated. Condolences to his family and friends. The real losers in this all are the Afghan people to whom Dan and his teams had provided much needed health care for decades.

    1. The real losers in this all are the Afghan people to whom Dan and his teams had provided much needed health care for decades.

  2. A great loss, especially for the people of Afghanistan. Not sure of its relevance but the groups travel plans were posted on facebook as I understand it.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write a few lines about Dan. For those of us who met him on his trips into India, he was always welcoming and encouraging to come and visit them in Central Af. Through all the past 40 years they had that amazing faith to beleive that the door to serve and care was still open till it was open.
    Can you send an email contact for Seija as my emaills have been bouncing back.
    Many thanks, Ken and Frieda

  4. Brutality always seems to be the reminder that cruelty is not overcome, even by those who deserve it the least.

  5. May his soul rest in peace for what he did and endured to help the helpless. His cold blooded murderers are also going to get their punishment one day, it is not for us to do it.

  6. Such “happenings” cause emotion to well up inside for why so much good so often provides such great loss affecting all of humanity. I must then ponder if I am worthy and look inward to find acceptance. Not for comparison, but to wonder what my own mission may be and if it may be of value.

  7. First my heartfelt condolences to friends and family for there loss. “Spies” “proselytizing Christianity” “Bibles translated in Dari” I call BS, This was just plane thuggery! you watched them, saw them working,(you knew they were DRs )followed them, killed them and took there thing to sell. just murder for greed. two groups claim responsibility, one trying to cover the other.? a shame on Islam.

  8. Thank you for continuing to write this blog, Tim, and providing us info. from the ground. My heart goes out to Dan’s and his colleagues’ friends and families. RIP.

  9. The guy was fearless, loved the place, and helped alot of afghans. Those facts alone put him in a class with few peers.

    Condolences to all concerned.

  10. I knew Dan well and he was my friend. The country of Afghanistan should mourn the loss of one of its champions. Dan traveled everywhere and never met a stranger. His actions were his faith and he was humble beyond measure. He and Seija his wife lived in Afghanistan for over 30 years. The people he helped and projects he implemented are his legacy. He will be missed by all, expat and Afghan alike.

  11. I saw Dan in March in Sequim, WA as he was departing for Afghanistan and we had another of our ten-minute talks. Dan liked to be brief. He was charged up and ready since his better half was already abroad. Sadly I never got to know him well, but I sensed his commitment and desire.

    The Terrys own the property next door and Dan was here to “close up” the place for their absence. Now he will return in a way I had never expected. Rest well, Dan, you deserve your reward!


  12. A great lose for afghans! We lost a wonderful friend, who helped 30 years helpless all over the country.

  13. I was somehow hoping, but admittedly wondering, if Dan was on this trip to NE Afghanistan. I lived in an apartment next to the Terry family as they came and went to Mussoorie where their daughters were studying. Dan was a kind soul, and I couldn’t help but admire his dedication to the Afghan people. Many would say that it was too dangerous. Seija, you were also so determined, and I admired you so as you continued on when I suspect it was so very difficult for you. Hilja, Anneli and Saara my heart is heavy for you as you process this. I am wearing my Class of 2002 friendship bracelet that Mrs. Crider had made for all of us in Goa. I just found it a few months back. It is to honor the Terry family and to remember to pray with/for you in the days ahead. May His purposes be accomplished in all of this.

  14. Men like him spent decades outside the wire and did it with what little they had.

    Guys like me, are kept inside the wire at all costs, to do paperwork at a cost of 1,000,000 a year each.

    I wish I was out here doing half of what he did. A bloody shame, all of it.


  15. A thoughtful commentary on an unnecessary tragedy. It will not stop me from my planning future trips to help in any way I can. In the medical school or in the villages. I’ll be there.

  16. Yet another painful and shameful tragedy in the evil-filled land of afghanistan.You,like Dan ,want to be good and do good and wish good will prevail over evil.To accomplish this in afghanistan,please be well prepared and ready to confront and destroy evil as this land is saturated with evil forces.Please do not try to die for afghans or anybody else but be ready and kill and kill efficiently the evil islamic thugs which strangle this god forsaken country.In fact.this is the best way you can help afghans and not dishonor the sacrifices of many soldiers and civilians.This vicious murder of these kind souls may embolden you to crush the evil islamic thugs and their supporters and cleanse this tortured land of islamic fascists and their filth!

  17. We need the good souls in afghanistan to last so they eventually overcome the evil forces there.What good would it do if these brave souls are shot dead?This is why islamic thugs,their supporters and sympathizers need to be eliminated in very convincing way,meaning get real rough and tough with islamic thugs and don’t worry and shrug off reporters crying foul.When the above is done efficiently and nationwide,then the afghans will be convinced that the good forces are here to stay and rule the country for good;then we may be able to decalre victory against islamic fascism.

    1. Toryalay Shirzay,

      If you were appointed by President Karzai to be Minister of Interior or Minister of Defense, what would you do?

      What resources would you need to accomplish your mission? Resources being funding, equipment, force structure, international trainers and international advisors?

  18. Using those ANA “commando” Kandaks I’d launch repeated and constant hunt and kill on sight missions into and all over the FATA against any and all Taliban and al-Q leadership that my people could lay cross-hairs on.

    I would emplace any and every piece of long range artillery (20+ miles range) I could get my hands on in Khost and/or Paktia and begin daily and constant shelling of both Wana and Miram Shah. While protecting those artillery bases with as many loyal and reliable ANA units as can be scrapped up. If the Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan stop, the shelling will stop.

    I would round up every single piece of mobile and functional armor that I could lay hands on, concentrating all of it at Towr Khan in preperation for a death ride thunder run through the Khyber into Peshawar, or at least as far as Landi Kotal.

    I might seriously consider making the open carrying of any long arm anywhere inside Afghanistan by any non-government, non-contractor, non-uniformed a shoot-on-sight criminal offense for a period of not less then one year.

    I would order that no dead Taliban bodies recovered be buried as Muslims, that they be buried in unmarked mass graves. I might even consider importing large amounts of pig fat for that purpose alone.

    I might seriously consider ordering the execution of every single captured Taliban and that there will be no further such captures and hence, no further prisoner releases or escapes.

    I would order the legalization and taxation of marijuana and its related products and a no appeal death sentence for the growth of poppy and its related products.


    In short I would call Pakistan’s bluff, relentlessly and ruthlessly hunt down and lay waste to their proxy armies, close the damn border, and send the world-wide price of heroin through the roof.

    But you didn’t ask me, and I’m not in charge…


  19. This is not an appropriate place for me to provide details of how this war can actually be won;however if the US/NATO are serious about winning this war and if they mean business,they can contact me.

    1. Shirzay Bhai, it isn’t the job of NATO to win this war for the Afghans. It is the job of the Afghans, their GIRoA/ANSF to win this war with support from NATO, ISAF, Russia, India, China, 5 Stan nations and others.

  20. I see there is some updated reports. Still a dam crying shame,and a great loss for Afghanistan. Did karzai say anything?.

  21. As the news has come out this week, one can’t help but be moved by their dedication. I’ve been in touch with the finance director of International Assistance Mission, and have received information about a fund they’ve started to “help the families of our Afghan colleagues who gave their lives alongside our friends.” I’ll post about it on my blog. I’ll also have a place where people can send condolences, etc.

  22. It was really stunning and i feel really sorry about the big lost of Mr. Don Teresa who been shot and killed by insurgents and enemies of our country. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who are presumed killed. Don Terry was a philanthropic and soft heart person… we will be saying prayers for him..

    warmest regards

    Shir- kochai

  23. Stories like this are sad beyond our ability to bear. Who in any state of mind could perceive a group of doctors delivering free medical care as any kind of a threat. Evil can win battles. Let us hope that Good can win in the end. What an incredibly sad end to a noble and uplifting life.

  24. Fact of life: nobody’s safe in a war zone.

    That Doctor Terry, et al, were there at all is more than commendable, that they had been able to work there at all, or for so long is remarkable.

    But let’s face it, if any of the assailants were targetted at home, the hellfire wouldn’t care who it killed, and neither would the guy who fired it.

    War is hell and it ain’t peaceful.

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