“We finally got the wounded out on the first day and uh, we’re like holy crap, when is this going to be over? When’s the mission going to be over? And we stayed there. It went on day after day. It just became so like, we’re never leaving this place. Just kill as much Taliban as you can. It never got better. I prayed to God, please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. And then it rains. And then it snowed and then it hailed.”
This is 23 year-old Thomas Dewar, Sergeant in the US Army 101st Airborne Division, 1st Brigade, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion. He fought two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the first, 2010-2011, the bloodiest year on record.
We’re sitting in a sunny café facing the San Gabriel Mountains. Patrons chat happily as they drink their cappuccino’s. Dewar could be any all-American boy. Sandy blonde hair, sun-tanned skin.
But look more closely and his body tells a different story. Muscles coiled, eyes darting, a double blink, an involuntary twitch. His injuries may not be visible, but they’re debilitating at times. A door slam makes him run for cover. Rain throws him into spasms of depression. When he looks at the mountains he once played in, he scans for Taliban. He never slept more than a two to three hours a night his entire two years of duty. When he wasn’t under enemy fire, he suffered torrential downpours, or oven-like temperatures.
The worst of it was Strong Eagle III. But we’ll get to that.