In the company of heroes

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Col.) Bobby Page
  • Air Education and Training Command Chaplain

I'll never forget Thanksgiving Day 2007. I spent the day hopping from base to base in Afghanistan along with Chief Master Sgt. Geoff Preudhomme. At Bagram Air Base we stood with a group of pararescuemen and pilots listening to the story of a dramatic rescue which happened just hours before.
With the HH 60G Pave Hawk descending into a ravine, blades spinning dangerously close to the rocky walls, one brave Airman named Staff Sgt. Troy Thompson was lowered by cable into the jaws of the dragon to lift out a fallen American soldier -- somebody's son, somebody's husband, some baby's father. As they began their descent into the ravine, the PJ battle cry sounded in the intercom, "that others may live!" I remember thinking, where do we find people like this? Their willingness to put their lives on the line for others moved me deeply. I was thankful to be there among them and to wear their uniform.

The PJs and pilots were not the only heroes we met that day. We left that band of brothers and made our next stop. We found a team of maintainers keeping these battle-weary helicopters flying after too many hours of combat yanking and banking in the extreme conditions of Afghanistan. There was no room for error in their work. A mistake, a moment of inattention, a job half-done could literally cost a crew their lives. Many are alive today because these Airmen were faithful to their duty. I was thankful to be there among them, and grateful to be an Airman with them.

Next was a visit with a heroic group of professionals at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, named for Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, a selfless combat medic who gave his life one night in June 2006 while attempting to rescue two wounded soldiers from an Afghan ridgeline. I felt the same spirit of service and sacrifice that motivated Sergeant Craig everywhere I turned in that hospital. I saw the fatigue of long hours etched into the faces of these Airmen, but I also saw the pride that comes when you give your best for others. I wished all Americans could see how their sons and daughters are not just receiving good care, they are genuinely cared for ... and there is a big difference. Wounded warriors brought to this hospital have a 98% survival rate. I was thankful for people so gifted and selfless and grateful to be a small part of the healing team that day.

Back home at Langley AFB, Va., I attended a dinner with my wife, blessed to be holding her hand, feeling thankful for the good life we enjoy. Staff Sgt. Natalie Madison stood before us. The words she sang so perfectly took me back to that Thanksgiving Day at Bagram Air Base. They also reminded me to give thanks for the heroes among us who serve so others may live free.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine.