OPINION COLUMNS

Veterans past and present deserve our admiration

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Wednesday, November 4, 2015
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As Veterans Day approaches, I want to honor not only those who have served in the military in the past, but also those who are serving today.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

I recently watched a “60 Minutes” story on a group of men and women who are serving a unique role in the Middle East war. The CBS Pentagon correspondent had been given permission to tour a sophisticated military facility in Qatar where air strikes against ISIS are planned and executed with precision.

The story focused on the B-1 bomber crews that depart Qatar headed for Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria to bomb targets more than 2,000 miles away. The B-1 bombers are refueled twice on the way to the target. Then, with the precision of a fine watch, they release their 2,000-pound bombs and obliterate the target.

Asked what the most dangerous part of the mission was, the crew said “take-off” with a plane fully loaded with bombs and fuel roaring down the runway in 100- degree heat, making lift-off a serious challenge.

After watching that show, I came away in awe of how smart today’s military men and women are. I’ve read tons of stories that many of them have master’s and doctorate degrees and they are over there – thousands of miles away from friends and families – using their talents to crush an enemy before the enemy hits us.

It’s inevitable that on some of these missions there will be casualties, and that’s where the second part of this story comes in.

And it involves a heroic Wise County U.S. Air Force military officer.

OpedRichardson

Lt. Col. Chris Richardson

Lt. Col. Chris Richardson is the commander of an elite helicopter rescue squadron in Afghanistan that was recently featured in a Washington Post story written by Dan Lamothe.

Chris, the son of Mike and Debbie Richardson of Decatur, is a graduate of Boyd High School and Angelo State University where he began his military career as a four-year member of the ROTC at Angelo State. He’s been on active duty for 15 years, most of the time as a helicopter pilot in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

The Washington Post story tells the tale of how helicopter rescue teams have been deployed to the Middle East war zone many times. In more difficult times, the rescue teams would carry away a dozen wounded combat troops with severe injuries in a 12-hour shift.

Col. Richardson’s group is the elite 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The Post says that those assigned to the unit are “pararescuemen,” the only members of the military trained to conduct “full-spectrum” recovery.

“That means they can do everything from parachute from planes to find downed fighter pilots on cliffs where helicopters cannot land to slice open a blown-up armored vehicle with hydraulic ‘Jaws of Life’ tools to save those inside,” the Post says.

That sentence undoubtedly caught the eye of Col. Richardson’s father, who is Decatur’s fire chief and intimately familiar with the hydraulic rescue tools carried on Decatur fire engines.

Col. Richardson is quoted in the story as saying the group no longer carries out medical evacuation missions but now must focus on being ready for more complex combat search and rescue missions.

The Post story said there are now about 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan, down from more than 100,000 in 2010 and 2011. Richardson’s squadron includes active-duty airmen from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and reservists from Portland, Ore.

“When you strip it down, it’s about saving lives,” Richardson told the Post in an interview at his unit’s headquarters in Bagram. “It doesn’t get any more simple than that, and it doesn’t get any more noble than that, in my opinion.”

How great is that? Chris Richardson’s story and being able to follow his career from Joe Cartwright’s football field at Boyd High School to serving his country with distinction is a great thrill for all of us at the Messenger.

America has been served forever by men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedom.

Pause for a moment and remember that on Nov. 11.

I know I will.

Roy Eaton is publisher of the Messenger.

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