Doane: Living With Risk
08/15/11 7:55AM By Larry Doane
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Commentator Larry Doane is a US Army veteran with tours in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The recent shooting down of a U.S. helicopter in
Afghanistan has reminded him of the risk that is part of life in the
(DOANE) None of us are indestructible and, but for the grace of God, that could have been my Chinook going down in some Afghan valley. Instead, it was 30 other American warriors, from units as diverse as the Army Reserve to SEAL Team 6. And it was one of the most primitive weapons on the battlefield that ended their flight. The rocket propelled grenade is one of the most ubiquitous weapons in the world and has little more guidance than an overgrown bottle rocket. Given that it was fired by a Taliban fighter with likely little formal training, a simple question arises. How could such a primitive weapon have defeated a platoon of some of the most elite warriors on the planet? And the answer is just as simple. War is hell.
What I mean by that statement is that war is the most capricious of environments. It cares little for fairness or justice. Who lives and dies rarely makes any sense or follows any discernible pattern. Skill and training can tilt the deck in one direction, but nothing can make you immune from the fortunes, or misfortunes, of war. Instead, warriors go about their business everyday knowing that, even despite their best efforts, this day may be their last. Learning to live with this uncertainty is part of the job, and just may be the defining characteristic of the professional Soldier.
We Americans take such pride in our military men and women. We build them up in our collective imaginations as indefatigable, exacting in their craft and unwavering in their duties. And well do they deserve this reputation. In the wake of the dramatic raid of Osama Bin Laden's compound, the members of SEAL Team 6 became even more legendary in our minds. Equipped with best equipment America could provide and trained to a razor's edge, they were supermen, capable of the impossible. But it would be unfair, and even tragic, to believe this to be the truth. Beneath it all, under the body armor and sophisticated equipment is not an indestructible figure, but a human, just the same as you and me. And this is what makes them truly heroic. America's warriors, even her most elite, go into battle knowing full well the uncertainty and the danger of their task. They know they are mortal and not the celluloid heroes of our Hollywood imaginations. But they do it anyway, even against long odds and poor conditions, because a nation counts on them to succeed.
I've been on the tarmac when the call comes in for help. And I know what it's like to pile into a helicopter and rush off to aid a fellow unit. With scant thought for their own safety, those thirty Americans flew to the aid of their comrades, under fire in a valley far from home. I know that as they flew, their thoughts were not about their own safety, but prayers for enough speed to arrive in time. And, as their helicopter slowed for a landing that would never come, they died as they lived, forever moving to the sound of the guns, and never turning away.