By Sgt. Javier Amador, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist June 5, 2014
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Two ranks of Spartan Soldiers, their leaders and a contingent from the Special Operations Task Force-Southeast stood by Forward Operating Base Shank's landing zone under the hot afternoon sun awaiting the arrival of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter bearing a small group of very important visitors.
The May 28 visit was part of a program called Operation Proper Exit, by the organization Troops First, which allows Soldiers who had been wounded during a previous deployment to find closure and return home on their terms rather than the way they had previously left -- as casualties.
As the helicopter touched down and opened its cargo bay, the SOTF-SE contingent drove their tactical all-terrain vehicles up through the ranks of Soldiers to pick up the visitors: recovering wounded warriors who had returned to the battlefield. With their passengers on board, the vehicles turned around and slowly drove back, where the visitors were greeted with cheers and applause.
Spartan Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), along with other units based at FOB Shank, came together and provided the wounded warriors with a variety of activities to make their visit memorable.
"The tasking came down from the division command sergeant major to take care of them and to treat them with respect," said Master Sgt. Tim Kubik, operations sergeant major for 2-87 Infantry. "So we got together and brainstormed some ideas. We found out a lot of them like to shoot weapons as a hobby, so we spun off of that and set up a heavy weapons range."
During the visit, the wounded warriors were given an opportunity to fire a variety of heavy weapons, such as sniper rifles, grenade launchers and even a shoulder-held rocket launcher. From the weapons range, they were taken to an Army aviation static display, which consisted of a medical evacuation UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and a drone. They also were given an opportunity to fire an M777 howitzer artillery piece, courtesy of "Blackjack Battery," 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd BCT.
Events for the visiting warriors, in particular the weapons range, were chosen after taking into consideration some of their interests, which took a bit of research, Kubik said.
The heavy weapons range had a secondary, educational purpose as well.
"The heavy weapons range gave them an opportunity to see some of our new capabilities, especially if they haven't been around in a while," Kubik said.
Organizing an event of this magnitude was complex. Everything from the events and the aviation static display to the transportation and the assets needed to support it took creativity and cooperation from everyone involved to ensure the wounded warriors were made welcome. Kubik, along with 1st Sgt. William Collins, first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-87 Infantry, received the task and knew it would be a team effort.
"First Sgt. Collins coordinated with the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, for the howitzers, and we coordinated with Task Force Wings of the 4th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, for the aviation static display," Kubik said. "We brainstormed ideas, generated a timeline and reached out to all of the entities on the FOB."
The visit proved to be more than an opportunity for the wounded warriors to continue healing. It also provided the Spartan Soldiers a compelling example of what overcoming adversity is really like.
"Whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself for whatever stupid reason, I'm going to remember this day," said Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Hamm, senior enlisted leader for 2-87 Infantry. "I believe we all learned something about resilience today. I thank all of the wounded warriors for their inspiration."
The visit came to a close later that afternoon, and the Soldiers all assembled at the helicopter landing zone to see the warriors off.
An awards ceremony was quickly held, during which Lt. Col. Brian Beckno, commanding officer, and Hamm presented each wounded warrior with a certificate, a challenge coin and a
10th Mountain Division combat patch.
They were driven back through the ranks of Soldiers who again clapped and cheered them in acknowledgment of their sacrifice and into waiting helicopters, leaving many of the Spartan Soldiers with the feeling they received far more than what they gave.
"Participating in Operation Proper Exit was the most honorable mission the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 'Task Force Catamount,' has had the privilege to participate in during this deployment," Beckno said.