A recent flight to Kandahar Air Base allowed me to see the Afghani countryside up close and personal. I needed to make a visit to some of the medical support agencies in theater, and a helicopter ride was the quickest means to make this happen.

As the chopper cruised along effortlessly, I could see vast rolling hills turn into formidable rocky peaks. At times we were barely 50 feet above the ground and I could easily make out numerous mud-walled compounds that housed entire families along with their livestock.

Children played along river beds and almond groves. There were no roads to be seen for miles, no electric wires and certainly no visible signs of modern day development. As we flew overhead, large herds of sheep that had been grazing on the hillside would scatter with the occasional sheep dog following close behind.

The “thump-thump” sound of the rotor blades was the only modern day interruption of what appeared to be a lifestyle dating back several hundred years.

We touched down at Kandahar Air Base and made our scheduled visits. The coordination of medical care in this country is a massive effort involving nations from across the world.

Local medical care in this part of the world is virtually non-existent. I learned of a patient who had been brought to my clinic in a wheel barrow and had been sick for over a year. There are no ambulances. The hospitals are inadequately staffed, and the doctors and nurses who work there are constantly threatened because of their “Western training” and affiliation with the modern world.

After a good cup of coffee and a long discussion with my medical counterparts, I knew I needed to check-in at the Post Office to see about mail and packages destined for my own home fire base.

Mail delivery is of paramount importance, even the smallest package takes on significant meaning. The fact that these deliveries are an essential link with loved ones back home has not changed since my father served in Vietnam. In 1968, they didn’t have the modern day conveniences of cell-phones, the internet and “speed-of-light” e-mail communications, so every night my mom would sit and make a recording to my dad.

She would talk into a small reel-to-reel tape recorder and then mail it out the next day. I also recall the sense of joy that my mother displayed every time she found a letter in the mailbox from my father. On this day in Kandahar, I discovered a package addressed to me from my brother in Tallahassee. Among the items he had included was something that would bring a smile to any Southerner in a combat zone — two cans of boiled peanuts!

My last night at Kandahar was an experience I will never forget.

At the chow-hall, I was advised that we would be attending a “ramp-ceremony” that evening. A group of servicemen and women that I serve with loaded up into several vehicles and made our way over to the flight line where an Air Force C-17 was waiting.

We formed up into equal groups at the rear of the aircraft. The ramp was lowered and the formation snapped to attention. The wind that night was the coldest I have ever experienced. No amount of cold weather clothing could have kept me warm. Not a word was spoken.

I happened to see a military working dog sitting calmly at the rear of the C-17. He had a bandage on one of his legs. As a military van drove up, a group of soldiers got out and lined up at the rear of the van.

They carefully retrieved the flag draped coffin and proceeded to carry it to the waiting C-17. This was a hero who was on his last flight home, a military dog handler that had been killed when his Humvee struck an improvised explosive device a day earlier. The soldier’s dog was wounded but had survived the blast. He too was here saying good bye to his friend. Freedom is not free.

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