Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nawzad Rendezvous

Thirty minutes until boarding and Trevor Kilkenny had his eyes on the fellow seated on the other side of the waiting area. The guy's hair was cropped close, high-and-tight. A polo shirt was snug across a hard chest and flat belly. A duffel in MARPAT camouflage was to his side. Trevor’s final point of observation: the man was in a wheelchair and had no legs.

Jenny looked up from her magazine, saw Trevor’s gaze locked on, and followed his line of sight. “What is it, hon? Something the matter?” she said. Trevor glanced to his wife, and tipped his head in the direction.

“The young guy over there, in the chair. I’m pretty sure he’s one of us.”

Jenny closed her magazine and leaned into Trevor’s shoulder, looking across the waiting room. “He’s got the look,” she said.

“I feel like I should go over there. You know, talk to him. But, Jesus. He’s… I mean, what would I say? How would I even start?”

Jenny slid the magazine into her carry-on and turned back to Trevor. Her eyes roamed his face for a moment. She placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle shove. “Just go over there, Trev. You’ll know what to say.”

He looked at his wife with a mix of appreciation and sadness, stood and walked reluctantly across the waiting area.

The young man stiffened and straightened in his chair as he saw the older man approach. Trevor spoke on his assumption and greeted him, “Afternoon, Marine. Mind if I cop a squat?”

“Yeah, sure enough, sir. Park it,” he gestured to an open seat. “‘Scuse me if I don’t get up.”

“Trevor Kilkenny,” Trevor said. “Captain.” And extended his hand.

“Mike Lewis, sir. Sergeant.” The two Marines shook on it.

“I was sitting over there with my wife,” Trevor pointed across the room toward Jenny, who gave a smile and shy little wave. Mike raised a slow hand in return.

“You looked like you were traveling alone so I figured I’d come over and say howdy. Where you headed?”

“Home, sir. Indiana.” Mike said. “Walter Reed for the past 10 months and I’m finally getting some leave. They’re fitting me up some legs. For now, I’m doing the Charles Xavier thing,” waggling the wheels of his chair.

“So, who were you with? What’s your story?” Trevor gestured toward the place where Mike’s legs had been.

“Lima Company. 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. We were in Nawzad, north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand. All mud-brick houses and alleyways, mountains to the southwest and east. The locals had beat feet and weren’t nobody in there but Taliban. We were tasked with clearing them out.” 

Mike paused, “It was rugged. They had it all mined up. When the Brits and the Ghurkas were there before us, they called it Apocalypse Now-zad.”

Jenny walked over with their carry-ons. “You boys mind if I join you?” The two Marines looked up and Trevor said, “By all means, hon. This is Sergeant Mike Lewis. Sergeant, my wife, Jenny.”

“Ma’am,” Mike said.

“Pleased to know you, Mike.”

“Go on, sergeant,” Trevor said.

Mike described the day: Lima 3/8 moving through the town, house by house, alley by alley, all under cover of artillery and mortar fire, and close air support from Apache gunships and F-18 Hornets.

Mike’s day ended when an RPG hit the wall 10 meters from their position, taking Mike’s legs and the life of his platoon leader. As Trevor listened, a sense of recognition creeped on him.

Trevor's squadron had been in Iraq in 2003. By the end of that year, Trevor realized that he wasn’t able to remember much. He could recall the big-picture stuff, sure. The major evolutions, the broad strokes. He had that down fine. But the detail, the day-to-day stuff, dates, people – all of that memory had been lost in the friction and fog and the frenetic tempo.

When Trevor went to Afghanistan with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, the Red Devils, he told himself he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He reached past Jenny for his carry-on and pulled out his journal: dates, mission numbers, who he flew with, who was lead and who was wing, weather, coordinates, ground units the squadron flew in support of. All of it.

“Sergeant Lewis... Nawzad… What day was it? What was the date?” Trevor figured if a guy lost his legs, he’d be pretty damn sure of the date.

“It was April, cap'n. 3 April 2009,” Mike said.

Trevor opened his journal and flipped the pages and came to April 2009:

“3 April: Nawzad. Four-flight: me, Buzz, Hooter, and Sasquatch. Close air support covering Lima 3/8.”

He turned the journal around and handed it to Mike. “I suppose you ought to call me Trevor,” he said.

Photos public domain; Wikimedia Commons


Anonymous said...

Great interaction - and it came about smoothly.

Hank Nuwer said...

That was beautiful, Josef. 2 pix are not loading though

Joe said...

Appreciated, Hank. And anonymous Dad.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
The dialogue seemed very real, and I was able to follow the story without a military background; I followed along just fine until the end.
1) Was the pilot covering from above that day?
2) Why the "better call me Trevor"? Both out of the service at this point in time?

Guess I missed something, maybe read it too fast?


Joe said...

Hey Ken,

Thanks for giving it a look. And you are correct: by looking at his journal and noting the entry, Trevor realizes that they fought in the same battle. Trevor may have even had a hand in saving Mike's life.

And while it would be outside of Marine Corps standards of discipline for an officer to invite an enlisted man to call him by his first name (and note that reciprocally, Trevor was addressing Mike consistently as "sergeant"), the implication of "call me Trevor" is intended to show "in this moment, my feeling for you as a fellow warrior -- even a brother -- transcends rank."


Unknown said...

Good stuff Joe. Hope the story continues