The Transition Home

Bird’s Eye View

I love helicopters. I love flying in them, I love watching them fly over my head. The physics behind a rotary wing aircraft are absolutely memorizing. It’s hard to make a helicopter look as sexy as a fighter jet, so I’m not expecting a Top Gun movie about Army Aviation to come out any time soon. But perhaps there is charm in being one of the few who get to appreciate this hidden magic.

Every so often, the junior officers of 2-1 Infantry must return from our Forward Operating Base back to Kandahar Airfield to take care of random orders of business for the battalion. Last week, I took part on one such trip to draw funds for my company to purchase…well, whatever it wants. The helicopter took off gracefully, and I clung to the side of the aircraft to stabilize myself as I peered downward onto the cosmic deserts of Kandahar. The bird’s eye view of the province is immaculate. Oceans of sand flow in waves across the terrain, banking on burgeoning mountains in the distance. Wholesome crumbs of the bread of civilization spill across this table of God’s creation. Motorcycles and rickety farm trucks shine in the sunlight as they intermingle with a primitive ecosystem. The only obtrusive stains on this canvas are our Stryker tracks, smudging the desert from our cross country movements. They are, indeed, a bit out of place.

But from this vantage, there is certainly more than what meets the eye. Beyond the desert, I see centuries and millennia of warfare. This is the last unconquered land. These are the last unconquered people. Our Stryker tracks cover those of T-72s from the Soviet invasion, which cover the tracks of the British Landcruisers from the Royal Empire. The wagon trails of the Monghul Expansion cover the steed prints of the Persian Empire, which cover the chariot tracks of Alexander’s Army. How many generations of men have spilled their blood over these sands trying to win this trophy country? The destructive creativity of mankind knows no limits to satisfy its greed or its insecurity. When a spear wouldn’t work, we invented the musket; when that failed, the rifle, the machine gun, the tank, the fighter jet, the nuclear bomb. Yet somehow, despite limitless military technology and the fortunes of the world behind them, no Army has ever destroyed the grip of these simple Afghan tribesmen. Somehow, God has decreed that this land shall know no authority but His own. It is a cur that shall never be tamed.

There’s nothing like a war to challenge the pores of one’s faith. Some days, I find no sense in the idea of a God. On others, I pray sincerely to Him. Occasionally, I curse Him. But as I entertain the notion that there is a greater plan at work here–greater than those of the politicians embarrassing themselves on the news networks– I find again a certain charm in bearing witness to this mystery…Afghanistan’s own form of hidden magic.

Perhaps there is a reason why this nation refuses to find peace. Perhaps there is a reason each new Afghan generation seems to purge itself of all semblances of stability. Perhaps it is a part of a greater plan that the rest of the world observes the bedlam of ungoverned masses. Perhaps we need a nation like Afghanistan to truly value the thousands of blessings we all enjoy as citizens of the western world. Afghanistan is the Control in mankind’s science experiment of the Democratic variable. This nation represents the primordial essence of being to which we will degrade if we seriously do reach “mission failure” in the grander scheme of our national identity. Perhaps God created Afghanistan so we could comprehend the value of what He has already given us.

So the next time you’re at the DMV complaining about the long lines, just be thankful we actually have a means to track down vehicles and drivers when they escape from the scene of a crime. The next time you get frustrated at a TSA agent in the International Arrivals terminal, just be thankful we actually invest in some means to protect our borders from the smuggling of dangerous people and weapons into this country. And for God’s sake, the next time you think you’re too busy to stop by a polling center on Election Day, just be thankful that you don’t live in a nation where political terrorists intimidate you out of voting.

Just as quickly as we took off, the helicopter began to drop its altitude as we descended onto the landing pad at Kandahar Airfield. The footprints left in the sand of previous passengers and pilots withered away in the rotor wash from the aircraft, and I stepped out leaving my own mark on the ground having seen this nation from a bird’s eye view. I whipped out my notepad containing my daunting To-Do-List for the trip to KAF. I felt the need to add just one more task: “Request absentee ballot from home”. I closed the notepad and walked off the flight line with a smile on my face. I no longer worry about “winning Afghanistan.” I find some humility recognizing that history does not favor our cause. But I find strength knowing that, if our service in Afghanistan can make just a few Americans more proud and thankful for the gifts we have at home, then the fruits of this war will outlast the tracks we leave withering in the deserts of Kandahar.

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6 responses

  1. kris slowikowski

    Hi Rajiv,
    Thanks for doing such a beautiful job with your essays. I have forwarded them on to others. I hope that you will be able to publish them in the future. Please send me your mailing address as we would like to send something to you and your platoon. Please let me know what would be useful for you. We keep you in our prayers. Please extend our regards to your family. We wish you well and pray for your safe return.
    Your friends in Roanoke, Kris Slowikowski and family

    13 October 09 at 10:23

  2. Meredith

    Thank you Rajiv for this eloquent post! I loved the analogy of the oceans of sand forming waves that bank against the mountains. War, illness, and all types of suffering can be so challenging to faith. One of my favorite words is reconcile. Trying to reconcile what we experience with what we have believed to be true can be so hard. One of my college professors said reconciliation is one of the most powerful emotions in the world. That has stuck with me…the power of an apology, the potential of a kind gesture, surprise transformations….
    As I learn about the civil rights and liberties that are lacking in other nations, I value democracy ever increasingly. I feel so grateful for our soldiers’ sacrifices in protecting our freedoms. Thank you for all you do! Miss you and think of you every day!

    14 October 09 at 00:09

  3. Meredith

    By the way, what an awesome banner!

    14 October 09 at 00:10

  4. Haily

    Out of words to praise your writing …really wonderful!!!

    Sometimes I think that, the world where we live or come from is different and far far better than we actually think..

    As I heard about the life of people, their culture, Way of living, typical rules….in Afganistan and similar countries…its totally out of imagination….

    So, I feel lucky and proud of myself that I am from a Developing country like India…

    14 October 09 at 17:54

  5. Sabina

    I liked reading your blog, as always, Jeeves. Some parts resonated more with me than others, but all around, it sounded like your words, which was nice to read.
    Snazzy banner; I barely recognized you. It’s still sort of odd for me to really grasp that you are indeed in Afganistan, in the army… Soo bizarre. Sometimes it just feels like you’re still at WP, but with no cell phone reception.
    Spain says hi to you..

    16 October 09 at 15:10

  6. I love helicopters too. I love flying them – although I prefer not to think about the ridiculously complicated physics that keeps them in the air. It’s gratifying to know that your recent pilot was skillful enough to warrant the moniker of “graceful” – after four months of flight school, I sometimes despair that I will ever achieve the grace of which I know our mechanical birds are capable.

    It is sobering to think of all the beauty of Afghanistan, created by God, continually spoiled by man’s inability to live with other men; as you wrote, “The destructive creativity of mankind knows no limits to satisfy its greed or its insecurity.”

    God is our creator too; His image is in us as it is in the beauty of flight and of the Afghan desert. I only wish that we would allow it to be more evident.

    17 October 09 at 03:23

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