Almost unnoticed or only given a passing glance was the recent murder of six United States Air Force members, killed while on a security foot patrol around an air base in Afghanistan. The pain and frustration over these deaths will linger for a long time, especially with their families, loved ones, and among those with whom they served, but also with those of us who understand the significance of the circumstances under which they were killed.
The dead include the female commander of the security patrol, Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen, 36. Tech. Sgt. Joseph Lemm, 45, a veteran of two prior deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq , and a New York City police sergeant. Sgt. Michael Cinco, 28, of Mercedes, Texas. Sgt. Peter Taub, 30, of Philadelphia. Sgt. Chester McBride, 30, of Statesboro, Georgia. And SSgt. Louis Bonacasa, 31, of Coram, New York.
Coram is a few minutes from my home on Long Island. I was a school district administrator where SSgt. Bonacasa went to school. And although we did not know each other, any time a neighbor is killed it brings home the serious nature of the Global War on Terror.
Bonacasa was a husband, and a father of a young daughter. I know the anguish he must have felt in leaving his family to do our nation’s most dangerous work, for I left a two day old son to serve at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, just months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Later, I served on two more deployments, including one to Iraq in 2004-2005 which saw me away from home and family for 14 months. Whether or not I was ever coming home was in the back of my mind every day in-country.
Bonacasa loved his daughter so intensely that he wrote a poem about her and then had it tattooed on his left rib cage:
Daddy’s little girl,
The most precious person in my life
I can’t wait until that first night
Holding you in my hands
Now it’s time to be a man
From your first breath to my last
I’ll be there for you any way I can
Your pretty smile will melt my heart
And your sad cries will always tear me apart
Daddy will be there to wipe away your tears
And there to protect you from all your fears
Your sweet little laugh will be music to my ears
A beautiful gift from God to watch you grow through the years
There will be times when daddy is not around
He will be somewhere with his boots on the ground
There so at home everyone is safe and sound
When daddy is gone baby please don’t cry
Because for your freedom my baby girl
Daddy will die
This heartbreaking promise from a father to his child is evidence still that we are in a bloody War on Terror, not simply some struggle against “thugs and killers,” as President Barak Obama would have us believe. This enemy is multifaceted and insidious.
If this is not true, then why do we operate the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, like a Muslim resort: prayer beads and rugs, Korans, halal and special Muslim holiday meals that include lamb and baklava, signs in Arabic on guard towers and green arrows painted on cell floors pointing the way to Mecca, white detainee garb for the well behaved, and counsel from U.S. military Muslim chaplains?
Obama’s denials that we are engaged in a war against Islamists fuels a misperception that has led to an inoperably thin effort that puts our troops in unnecessary peril. Too many missions, including the one that claimed these six lives, are under served with armor and overwatch – protections that should have been employed on such a dangerous mission.
I grew up as a soldier in the Army with the mechanized infantry as a combat medic, being told by my Vietnam veteran medical platoon sergeant and by the G.I.’s I served with that “you are an 11B (military occupational specialty nomenclature for infantryman) until somebody gets hurt.” They put the “combat” into “combat medic.”
I learned every weapon system except for mortars, and trained to fire them. I understood the tactical and technical requirements of mechanized infantry missions. Later, as an officer, my first command was as a leg infantry medical platoon leader, responsible for support of line companies, scouts, evacuation and aid station operations. Inherent in all of this was the number one most essential element to any military mission: security.
The last nine years of my military career I spent as a medical service officer with enemy prisoner of war military police units, small liaison detachments responsible for operational oversight of detainee operations, both in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later in Iraq. Again, the number one most important concern was security.
Four of the Air Force personnel killed, including Maj. Vorderbruggen, were members of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations; think the Air Force version of NCIS, the criminal investigation folks. This leads one to think there is something more going on here than a routine security patrol around an air base. It leads one to believe there was an intelligence gathering mission going on. Why were the Air Force police on foot patrol? Why so many non-commissioned officers? Were there armored weapons platforms on overwatch or in reserve? Was there sniper cover? Helicopters? Drones? If not, why not?
Was this patrol, like the thin defenses for our personnel and ambassador in Benghazi, politically motivated? Was the major being allowed to punch her combat ticket (gender and sexual orientation aside) for promotion? Was she trained and experienced in such patrols or intelligence gathering? Was she a linguistics expert?
In my experience, it is highly unusual for a military major to be leading a foot patrol. Majors are field grade officers, and generally assigned to staff positions in headquarters units, not front line commanders leading troops into battle or on security patrols. Usually, the highest rank for an operational combat unit is captain, one rank below major.
Why were so many killed with one motorcycle improvised explosive? Were they grouped together too tightly? Were they following protocols? Who sent them on the mission and why?
We must perform all military operations with overwhelming force and with vigilant force protection. This idea from civilians at the Pentagon and in the White House that we can perpetrate a war with a tiny footprint and only Special Forces, bombs and drones is naive at best and deadly at worst.
If our political and military goals are not the same, we will fail, and there will be more blood spilled needlessly.
As a former combat medic I know how difficult blood stains can be to remove, and it may take Obama a lifetime to get this blood off of his hands.