Cold weather and a cool air drop

Published 10:48 pm Monday, January 7, 2013

By SFC Ed Holland

Now that the holidays are over, we try to hunker down for the extremely low temperatures. I have spent five deployments in Iraq. It never got this cold.

The highs will be in the mid to upper teens and the lows will be below zero. But we are soldiers, and we can handle it. We have a lot on our shoulders here.

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As for my soldiers, they are still highly motivated and disciplined in all they do. We have taken time to show them how much we appreciate all they do. Our Christmas gift to them was a day off. Yes, a day off while in a combat zone. The leaders manned the guard towers, entry control point and the base defense operations center so they could have Christmas day off.

Many of the soldiers slept the day away. Others called, Skyped, Facebooked and Yahooed all the family members they could. We were out in the elements, really experiencing what we have not since we were soldiers. It was enlightening and fun.

But the biggest joy was being able to give our soldiers a day of rest and absorb the looks on the faces when we were “geared up” pulling guard duty.

We brought in the New Year huddled around a fire, smoking cigars and reflecting on the past year and the year to come. We have established a ritual of “Cigar Night.” Our First Sergeant has made it “mandatory,” but we have embraced it and really enjoy our time. Conversations cover children, spouses, vacation plans and, of course, re-deployment. We all have different cigar tastes and preferences.

I was the non-commissioned officer in charge during a recent air drop of supplies. It was a well-coordinated and timed event. I was fortunate enough to receive training on air operations — and man, did it come in handy. The bird called in and did a commo check, and my mind went into motion.

Everyone said it looked like second nature. But inside, I was really nervous. What if the bird missed the mark? What if I didn’t mark the landing zone at the right time with the smoke grenade?

As the commo check was complete, I radioed to the pilot, “Site mark yellow smoke.” The pilot acknowledged, “I see smoke.” The bundles dropped, and the parachutes opened. Yes! They hit the mark.

As easy as it looked, I realized the success of this mission was on my shoulders. As we collected the chutes, I remembered I had incoming helo’s with passengers, and we had to clear the landing zone in 10-15 minutes. Sergeant First Class Desersa, Sergeant Adams and even the First Sergeant sprang into action. We cleared the LZ in about 8 minutes.

“Man, great work guys,” 1SG yelled out. As soon as he said it, a helo was touching down. That is a piece of what we do here. We work as a team.

On a more personal note, my mom is recovering from a serious operation, and I think about her 24/7. I love you, Mom. Your baby boy is safe. Don’t worry about me, just get well. I look forward to going to Walmart with you when I get home. You are my favorite girl. I love you.

To my son and daughter: Dad is very proud of you and misses you two like crazy.

To all of my friends that sent me messages on Facebook, I am glad to know you guys and ladies are proud of me. I will definitely continue to give you updates on my unit.

As always, keep the soldiers of Forward Operating Base Lightning in your thoughts and prayers.

Sgt. First Class Ed Holland, a 1989 graduate of Suffolk High School, has been in the U.S. Army for 18 years. He is on his sixth deployment, including five to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.