Every once in a while, one of our sister sites puts out something worth sharing with the SOFREP crew. This is a great piece written by a former TF 160 pilot Matt Gardner. TF 160 produces the best helicopter pilots in the world; most have more time flying on night vision than career civilian pilots have total flight time.
Losing friends and brothers is hard; it’s different from losing direct family, but it cuts to the bone, regardless. I’m glad Matt wrote this up.
I began October of 2009 as I had many other months of the preceding few years—beginning a 60-day rotation in Afghanistan, flying the MH-47G for Special Operations Forces across the country. Those two months would keep me from my wife for her birthday, but would return me in plenty of time for Christmas—a rare event in our world.
I hopped onto tail number 747, my ride for the month. My crew was comprised of Nick, Sway (short for Josue), Philly, Stewie, with Shawn filling the slot of Doc since we were the CASEVAC bird. I brought with me Niall Lyons, newly arrived and on his first rotation overseas with the unit. The month went like many others: The nights were dark, the LZs were dusty and scary, and the bad guys seemed to be everywhere. We had a few scrapes, a few interesting moments, but overall, not a bad couple of weeks.
I soon got some good news/bad news. Good news: You’re going home in two days. The bad news, it’s because we’re bringing you back for December and January. Not totally happy news, to be sure. But that’s the way things work sometimes, so I focused more on the good and passed my crew on to my good friend Mike Montgomery.
Forty-eight hours later, I was back home, cobbling together a surprise birthday party for my wife. The party went off well, with lots of unit friends and wives in attendance. We went to bed tired and happy. A day later, however, my morning began with fear and trepidation. News reports came out early that day of the loss of a helicopter in Afghanistan. The wife of a fellow unit member was calling my wife, worried and fearful. A knot began to form in my belly.
Into work, and it was obvious that there was news to be had—just not officially. We hoped. We worried. We waited. At about 10 that morning, a pilot on battalion staff came down to the hangar and pulled us all into a room. 747 had gone down. We lost Mike, Niall, Sway, Nick, and Shawn. Additionally, the SF teams, DEA, and Afghan National Army lost several of their own, but frankly, we weren’t listening. We were ‘aw, helling’ our way through the five names we knew so intimately, so well. And I was wondering about Philly, about Stewie. Injured and being cared for, but still…not home, not with us.
That was a long day.