By Nancy Osborne
For the past few years I’ve made it my business to communicate electronically with men and women from the Central Valley serving in America’s armed forces here at home and overseas.
The practice seemed to be a natural progression from the news stories I was writing. Stories about home comings for good or time at home on leave. The pride of families involved in support efforts for their loved ones at schools and churches. And in some cases the struggle to survive a terrible war injury and then to adapt to what comes next.
And then there were the stories too often read on our Action News broadcasts. The stories of families who have received news no one ever wants to or is prepared to receive: ‘We regret to inform you that …”
What I’ve learned in the past few years from those who take that very real risk and those who encourage others to join those ranks is this: very few regret their decision to serve their country and most of their families support them without reservation.
The emails I’ve received from those in the uniform have led to some frank and insightful points of view. Many of them arrived in my inbox with photos; snapshots of a time, a place or the people they’ve met along the way.
Those connections and the new ones this blog may bring will open their world to yours. No politics. No judgments. No right or wrong. Just Americans in military service from their point of view.
So let me introduce you to a Marine on his second tour of duty overseas.
His first was in Iraq, his next in Afghanistan.
When I first met then Captain Terrance Slatic of Fresno it was June of 2008. He was just home from a year long tour in Iraq serving with a Marine Reserve unit. He eagerly shared his many images and experiences with us.
What do you tell your kids about this war? And why and where you are? If you are Marine Major Terrance Slatic you send them your love and a SITREP or ‘situation report’ for them to read.
“I wanted to send you guys a letter to explain what I am doing here, in THIS war, in Afghanistan. In some ways, things are similar to when I was in Iraq last year. I’m in a desert, there is a river nearby, and there are bad guys that are trying to hurt the people who live here as well as trying to hurt the Marines who are here to help protect the people of Afghanistan.
In other ways, things are very different. In Iraq there were Lots of Marines. Many thousands of Marines and several times that many from our Army…. For security reasons I can’t say how many Marines we have. In terms of our Army, there are less of them too and they are pretty far away. In actuality, me and my Marines are the American military unit that is farthest south in Afghanistan.”
Shortly after that Major Slatic began exchanging emails with me. This was the first one and included very brief comments from Combat Outpost Payne:
“Been here 3 weeks now. High 70s day, high 30s/low 40s night. About a billion stars at night. Looking forward to some interesting times here.
Major T. P. Slatic
4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer
Combat Outpost Payne
Major Slatic has kept my in-box full of non-classified accounts of the difficult challenges he and his fellow Marines are meeting everyday.
Conditions at the southern most end of Afghanistan in the Province of Helmond began in tents despite the continuous base expansion. No indoor plumbing and showers occur about every 10 days.
Today the odd looking buildings are replacing the tents and but at his last posting the latrines were still outside.
This is a place very poor in natural resources and short on comforts of most kinds. Basic healthcare simply doesn’t exist.
Slatic wrote that one local father pushed a wheel barrow with his sick children for hours to ask for help at Camp Payne. The Major handles four separate security details. Including security. A coverer wheel barrow could hold anything. So Slatic went outside the ‘wire’ to see what the old man wanted. Going ‘outside the wire’ means leaving the relative safety of the base and venturing into unsecured territory. The Major did so with a team of armed marines and a translator:
Major Slatic wrote: “As the “wheelbarrow man” was just a few moments from the gate, I took off running for the gate about a quarter mile away, while calling on my radio for the Marines who are “on call” for situations like this (the QRF or “quick reaction force”) to jump in their armored vehicle and meet me at the scene. While the gun tower at the gate could have easily taken care of the situation before “wheelbarrow man” got too close, there was enough uncertainty about what was going on to justify a closer, but not too close, look…
It is, after all, my responsibility to ensure the security of Payne and, as they taught us at Quantico 25 years ago, a leader must always be prepared to place himself wherever he can best influence the outcome of events.
As I don’t speak any Afghan language, I pantomimed to the man to hold his arms out from his body so as to look for some type of radio controlled trigger mechanism for any bomb that might be in the wheelbarrow 40 yards behind him.
“He cooperated, which made me feel good about my future, after this tour, in the mime business. I walked up to the wheelbarrow and discovered that there were 2 small children inside the bucket. I had instructed my guards to remain near the man. They were wearing their helmets and body armor which we refer to as PPE or “Personal Protective Equipment”.
“Knowing the appearance of sick children from many years of parenting, I immediately believed that we had a concerned father seeking medical attention for his sick kids. Still…it wouldn’t hurt NOW to exercise some caution. I slowly examined the rags upon which the two lay. Nothing suspicious.”
“… We established that the kids had been ill, running high fevers, for 3 days. There was a 5 year old girl and a two year old boy …The father related that Marines had visited his village and said that should he need something or if he wanted to tell us about any strangers or Taliban in the area, he could come to Payne. He was able to give the name of the Marine who told him this.
Our Doctor examined the children and gave them medicine to help their symptoms. He gave the father medicine and vitamins to take home for the children. After the Doctor finished treating the sick children, I asked the father about Taliban activities or strangers in the area as these two things usually go hand in hand. The father than left; pushing the wheelbarrow with the sick children.”
Slatic estimated the round trip to and from the father’s village was more than 5 hours pushing that wheelbarrow. When the family left, they did so with plenty of bottled water from the Marines.
This is war of waging peace and good will he says, while fighting a determined enemy at the same time.
In counter insurgency warfare you must win the hearts and minds. I may never know if we won this fathers’ heart OR mind. He obviously cares deeply for his children which touches me as a father. That being said, I shake my head when I see a man taking his very sick children on a 5 hour trip in the desert, exposed to the elements, without bringing water. All he had done was placing his children in the wheelbarrow and started pushing. No supplies. Some of the Marines had asked if we should consider giving the man and his children a ride back to their village. Unfortunately, I told them, should such an “act of kindness”, be observed by the wrong person, who them tells someone else, could easily result in this man and his family being killed by the Taliban.”
Major Slatic continues to email his observations on the work being done by the Marines in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan. The most difficult emails to read are those of the increasing numbers killed and wounded in action assigned to FOB Fort Payne. The photos are devastatingly poignant. The traditions that come with a fallen comrade are upheld even in a battle zone. More on that in my next post. And you’ll share in the experience thorough Major Slatic’s photographs.
He is just one of are thousands of Valley folks wearing a uniform in outposts and military bases around the world and right here in the United States.
They, their loved ones and friends are welcome to join this conversation.
More next week, until then post your thoughts.
If you prefer to do that privately send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABC 30 Action News