Oregon Public Broadcasting

A group of Oregon Guardsmen got together recently to drink beers, eat barbecue, chase their kids around the lawn, and remember their deployment to Afghanistan ten years ago. The Oregon Guard's 1042nd Medical Company has gone overseas several times in the past decade, but their first deployment after September 11 was an important one.

Among their numbers, were highly experienced veterans from Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Somalia, Syria.

OPB's April Baer joined them and prepared this audio postcard of their gathering.

"Hi, my name is Kurt Schmitz, and I was the senior flight medic for the 1042nd in Afghanistan."

"Hi my name is Mark Carter, I actually grew up in Astoria. I've been on Blackhawks my entire career."

"I'm William Wellborn from Silverton, Oregon.I come from one of the Pioneer Families. I grew up in Heppner, I come from one of the pioneer families. I spent thirteen years as a flight medic."

"Beau Lintner. Grew up in ALbany, and I've been here in Tigard for ten years or so. I did operations."

"My name is Kyle Sanders I live in salem. My job is a Blakchawk helicopter mechanic." Dennis Cooper "My name's Dennis Cooper, I'm one of the UA-60 Blackhawk pilots. I'm from Washington, just south of Seattle."

"We learned, well we figured after 9-11 all getting prepared mentally I guess. I think we found out in January of 2002, we'd finalized going to Afghanistan," Dennis Cooper said.

"What's unusual you have a bunch of guys almost entirely former active duty that were highly trained in what they do and had a lot of experience. We had pilots all super high-time very experienced pilots, true professionals at what we did. We were doing pretty standard medical operations, lots of civilian casualties. Military casualties, of course, we were transporting both U.S. military and Taliban and al-Qaeda patients," Schmitz said.

"You know, the degree of difficulty was intense because we were the second rotation into Afghanistan so everything was still undeveloped," Cooper explained.

Sanders said, "It was boring. When you see the news they only show the most dangerous clips. Most movies on war, they focus on the action part of the war. But in reality, you're waiting 90% of the time."

"Before we went, they were telling us, 'You're not going to be doing civilian MedEvac.' I knew, going in, we would be doing civilian MedEvacs. That was really what I hoped would be a part of what we'd do because they have no hospitals, no nothing. Fifty percent of our patient load was children under 5 or 6 years old. That for me was a really incredibly great part of being over there. The downside is you can't save everyone, all you can do is your best," Schmitz said.

William Wellborn said, "The thing that was the most startling -- we were prepared for bullet wounds, lacerations and things like that but nothing really prepares you for those explosions. Explosions do really weird things to the human body. That's what's given me the most trouble in the last ten years. But also, we really went in there with a lack of pediatric supplies and being told 'You're not going to treat children, that's not our mission...' And it wasn't our mission. Our mission was to support the soldiers. That's what we're there for. But things happen, you know? These are all guys from small towns, just normal people, they want to help, they want to help anybody."

Beau Lintner said, "I never left our compound the entire deployment. They would come back from missions with those looks on their faces about what they did."

Will Wellborn explained, "You got 20-some people, this was all the MedEvac support in southern Afghanistan. Even if it was their turn to rest, they jump on the mission because they want to help."

"Afghanistan was different for me. I went over there coming from a different plance. I was pretty upset after 9-11. I went sure not sure how i was going to feel about the Afghanis. What I came away with was that we really had a real opportunity to do the right thing. Not only could we do MedEvac operations and save peoples' lives, but we could really change how their lives were going to be in the future, we had a real opportunity to create a first world nation for them if we were willing to follow through. Basic infrastructure - hospitals, schools, roads, electricity. I came away wanting to figure out if there was a way we could do that," Schmitz said.

Will Wellborn said, "I come from very small community in Eastern Oregon, in Heppner, where they do a lot of dry land wheat farming. Talking to the Afghan people, they care about the same things. They care about their families. They care about how much rain they're going to get. How the crops are going to grow. They grow similar things to what we have here in Oregon. Corn, potatoes, onions, carrots, fruit. There's a lot of parallels. I appreciated that. You come from a very small town in a rural place where things can be tough. You don't' trust outsiders. It's like, 'Oh, you're coming here today, but we're here long term.' They're tough people. Because they have to be."

Kyle Sanders said, "The folks in Afghanistan for the most part have been so isolated for so long, that it really feels like you're traveling back in time 1000s of years, observing an event completely out of place from what you're used to. There's no measuring stick."

"I work full-time as a registered nurse for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. And I work part-time for the National Guard," Wellborn said.

"Right now I'm a full-time technician with the Oregon National Guard. I work on Blackhawks every day," Carter said.

"I own a small recording studio," Sanders said.

"I work at the post office, I'm just about retired. I've got four years to go," Schmitz said.

"I'm a maintenance test pilot. So when the guys do maintenance on the aircraft, I take it out fly it, makes use it works correctly," Cooper said.

Schmitz said, "The only big difference for me this time was that we were gone so long, that it was hard to re-integrate with your family. Because they've set up their own routines. This is when such-and-such goes to school. This is when I have to be at work. Everybody has their own role that I didn't fit into any more."

Wellborn explained, "The PTSD is really hard to deal with sometimes, it affects your interpersonal relationships and your ability to do social things."

Schmitz said, "I think all of us in some way have some PTSD. In my case, I don't sleep well."

Carter said, "It took me a LONG time to get used to being in a crowd of people: theaters, shopping, stores - anywhere there's a large group of people, for a long time I didn't' go."

"I am very lucky to be part of a huge family. I have eight nieces and nephews. We have a lot of kids running around. I spend a lot of time working in the yard, working in the garden, building treehouses and tire swings, and just trying to be a cool uncle," Sanders said.

Will Wellborn said, "Alright, thank you guys, for coming out. I just want to take a couple seconds to remember anybody in this last ten year of war that either had to be transported by us, or maybe didn't make it. So I'll just take a couple minutes of silence to remember the brevity of the situation, and how fortunate we are to all be together today."

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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