Jeremiah Smith June 04, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 15

Trail Running in a War Zone

A Black Hawk helicopter pilot’s daring evening jog on the FOB


It’s the end of another stressful day somewhere in Afghanistan, my second combat tour here, and I’m about to abandon my combat gear—boots, body armor and M-4 carbine rifle—for running shoes, shorts and a T-shirt. Even here, on a forgotten Forward Operating Base (FOB) in southern Afghanistan, you’ve got to get out and hit the trails, right?

I grab my roommate and running buddy, Seth. If I want to talk, he’ll listen. If I don’t, he’ll run with me just the same. Plus, if one of those bad guys—be they Taliban, Al Qaeda or otherwise—is going to do me in, I want a witness.

We begin our run near the firing range. No one’s here tonight shooting M-4s, Kalashnikovs or RPGs—only a shepherd grazing his goats and sheep in the target area. The image cracks me up—an Army shooting range nestled right up next to an Afghan version of Brigadoon.

Now, I should give a disclaimer of sorts at this point …

I’m a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, a Chief Warrant Officer, and I live a conflicting life. I abhor the wastefulness of modern technology and a few aspects of the American lifestyle I go to war to protect (whatever that means and however that may or may not actually work). The over-consumption, commercialism, immediate-gratification and something-for-nothing aspects of the great nation I belong to turn my stomach.

I want to be a small-time subsistence farmer in Maine, enjoy the outdoors and take no more than I need while trying to give back more at the same time. That’s the hippie side of me I have to suppress while I continue my Army career. I love the country of Afghanistan and see its people as great, though often misunderstood. I wish I could spend time on the ground helping some small village rise above the chaos of the last several decades, but I can’t; my job is to fly helicopters. That internal struggle is stressful and greatly increases my need to get out and run to unwind.


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