By Senior Airman Charles V. Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Nearly 10,000 miles away from Afghanistan, the war’s realities are sometimes hard to imagine. Businesses prosper and grocery stores remain stocked. Other than maybe a spike at the pump, many carry on with life with little regard of the turmoil that takes place on the other side of the globe.
However, crews from Travis Air Force Base, California, carry out missions every day in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From troop and cargo movements to inflight refueling to battlefield medics, Travis AFB has remained a pillar to the war in Afghanistan. Since the early stages of OEF in 2001, the men and women of Travis have maintained deep connections to Bagram Airfield. Even with a dwindling presence of American forces within Afghanistan, more than 500 Travis Airmen are currently serving in overseas contingency operations; many of them at Bagram Airfield.
For those of us here, the show offered a tangible reminder of the impacts of our efforts, and exemplifies how the whole Air Force works as a team. Nat Geo film crews traveled to Afghanistan aboard Air Force aircraft both in 2012 and 2013. And, Travis C-17s happened to fly the missions both years.
Capt. Brendan Hopkins, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot based out of Travis, vividly recalled the 2013 mission that brought Nat Geo into Afghanistan for the new season of Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand. “When I think back to that particular mission, the word that keeps standing out is routine. As we like to say, any time, any place, the Mobility Air Forces answers the call so others may prevail,” he said. “Sure we joked about being on camera, but it was no different than any other mission. We have been in Afghanistan since I joined the Air Force. And that’s a point that truly hits home for me.”
It was only fitting that the team who brought the film crew into country would be one of the first to witness the series they played a role in creating, as Travis Airmen crowded into the base theater last weekend for an advanced screening of Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand, baring witness to a side of the war in Afghanistan many Americans likely haven’t had the opportunity to see.
Gone are the days of round-the-clock news coverage of Operation Enduring Freedom. The few updates we see, rarely address the day-to-day life of those serving in Afghanistan. In many ways, America’s longest war has faded into the background of current events. No longer are the names of men and women who have given their lives for their country displayed across the never-ending ticker that scrolls at the bottom of our television screen. The reality of today’s post 9/11 generation is we know nothing but war. Since these wars began, perhaps our nation has gotten too comfortable with the idea and for many the faces of our armed forces simply become blurred into that overall idea. Yet, when the crew of National Geographic Channel’s hit series Inside Combat Rescue ventured back to Afghanistan for a second time their mission was simple – provide a human face to those who stand watch in a foreign land.
In Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand, we are once again reminded that the war in Afghanistan is far from over. Although it has only been a year since the film crew was last in country, the entire landscape has changed. American and coalition forces no longer lead the fight. The day-to-day missions now reside primarily in the hands of our Afghan counterparts, as they work to take control of their war-torn country. Even behind the razor-wire walls of Bagram Airfield, the comforting notion of security is difficult to fathom. Life is different there. Alarms ringing of incoming mortar and rocket attacks have become part of life. For the 36,000 people who call the base home, this is a part of their reality. There is no safe zone in war.
Nat Geo brings us face-to-face with the mission of the “Reapers,” an Air Force unit tasked with capturing or killing the highest-level enemy targets. The two-hour special grants us unprecedented access into the manhunt for a Taliban commander named Subhanullah. But unlike some stereotypes many Americans have grown accustomed too, helicopter raids and doors kicked in by “American death squads” are not the models in Afghanistan. Instead, coalition forces use a delicate dance of diplomacy to bridge a gap between two cultures so vastly divided. For the Airmen of Reaper Team 5, tasks as trivial as traveling just a few miles outside of the walls of Bagram are carefully crafted in an effort to prevent further loss of life. Moving from village to village in their manhunt, the Reapers play the role of an inner-city cop more so than a soldier. The frustration captured in this series to find one man is almost overwhelming.
What began on October 7, 2001, with allied air strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom enters the final months of its chapter in history. The date many now look to is December 31, 2014; the date President Barrack Obama designated as the end of combat operations. With Inside Combat Rescue: The Last Stand we see the honest portrayal of the real costs of war as it comes to a close. They offer us the first-person perspective from the frontlines that begin to peel away the layers that have coated our minds for the last decade. We once again see the human face of the one percent who keeps our nation out of harm’s way.