The hardest day of the war

<p>Ashleah Markle</p>

Ashleah Markle of Pendleton was ready for sleep after another day as a supply sergeant in Afghanistan. That day, Sept. 25, 2005, began with loading a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that would carry troops from the Kandahar air base on a mission for Operation Enduring Freedom. 

At day’s end she returned to her bunk, but stopped when she heard crying.

Markle asked what was wrong.

“She said Mustang 2-2 went down, and there were no survivors,” Markle recalled.

Mustang 2-2 was the aircraft Markle had loaded. Adrian Stump, an Oregon National Guard warrant officer, and Army Sgt. Tane Baum, both of Pendleton, were aboard that Chinook. Markle knew them and was friends with Stump.

“I was up for probably 24 hours after that,” Markle said. “That was a hard day.”

The crash took other lives as well, other “good men,” she said. But losing Stump hit hardest. 

“You go over there knowing it can happen, but you are never truly prepared for when it does,” she said.

 Markle, 26, joined the Oregon National Guard at 17, though a recruiter told her she would not see active service. Three years later, she found herself in Afghanistan. Markle stressed she never saw combat, but her role made combat possible. In spite of losing friends in battle, Markle said she didn’t spend time questioning military strategy or U.S. motives for being in Afghanistan. 

She had a job to do, she said, and that was her focus.

“If you start thinking why you’re there, you just lose all motivation for why you are there, and I couldn’t have done that,” she said.

She also has fond memories of her time in Afghanistan. She celebrated her 21st birthday at the military base. Fellow soldiers duct-taped her to a chair, and a friend gave her a knife and said she had to get free on her own.

She reminded them she would still have the knife when she was free.

That sort of rough play was par for the course, she said, but it wasn’t out of line. 

And plenty of good came from her service; she left in 2010.

“I have three associate degrees and no student loan debt,” she said.

She also met her husband, Clint Markle, in the Guard, and the couple have two boys, Eden, 3, and Ashton, 8 months. She has a degree in nursing and would like to build a career as a nurse in Veterans Affairs.

Markle said it’s sometimes odd to think of herself as a vet. The closest she came to combat was a mortar attack on her base. But she also said she feels a kinship unique to all who have served.

“You learn to appreciate your friends more,” she said. “It makes you grow up a lot.”

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