My Best Friend and I Did Everything Together — Until He Was Killed in Afghanistan
NOTE: This is an excerpt from a story by Luke Ryan / New York Times / May 24, 2019
I boarded the C-17 transport aircraft with three other escorts, one for each soldier who had been killed. This was our new mission: to bring them home. Since the first explosion had been triggered that night, I had been using momentum as a crutch. Adrenaline had kept me moving. On that cargo plane, soaring over the Atlantic Ocean, I had no choice but to sit amid the hum and whine of the aircraft and confront my own thoughts. I remember that moment clearly — I was sitting with my head resting against the cold metal behind it. Before me lay the four boxes, each wrapped tightly in an American flag, in stark contrast to the olive drab and black military equipment around us.
Patrick Hawkins, Cody Patterson, Jennifer Moreno, Joseph Peters. I said the names in my head over and over as if they were in danger of slipping away, as if they weren’t permanently etched into my heart and mind
Cody had been relatively new to the platoon, and it was his second deployment. He was capable, smart and proficient, and I wished I had been more like him when I was a newcomer. Young Rangers are the little brothers in our small platoons, and Cody was the type you would be proud to call family.
Jenny was a 25-year-old first lieutenant and served as a Cultural Support Team member, though she had initially joined the Army as a nurse. C.S.T. members supported our missions and primarily dealt with civilian women and children after an assault was over, gathering valuable and actionable intelligence and defusing many volatile situations. On a few occasions, Jenny and her teammates met up with me and another Ranger in an abandoned building near our camp. We laughed together, spoke of home and shared the snacks sent by our loved ones.
Joe was an Army special agent with the 286th Military Police Detachment, and he was 24 years old, with a wife and a young son waiting for him back home. I met him for the first time that deployment, but we worked closely on the missions where he joined us. He understood the essence of servanthood — of a job whose true purpose was to help the people around you — and when we were together in the field we were always on the same page.
As I watched Patrick’s coffin being lowered into his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery, I wondered if he would just disappear. Life was demanding that I move forward, and yet there he lay, forever still.”
Patrick: Then there was Patrick, my dear friend and Ranger brother. We entered the same squad just after the Ranger selection course, grew into young leaders and traveled the world and into combat four times together. We were roommates back home and overseas, and we were seldom apart. We laughed at the same jokes and recited the same lines from our favorite movies. When we cleared rooms or took fire, we knew exactly how the other would move. As I sat in the cargo plane, my thoughts drifted gently to his wedding, and to his wife and parents. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t terrified, I was just sad. Sad that it happened and sad that for Patrick’s loved ones the years ahead would be filled with so much pain.