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Jeremiah Smith Tuesday, 04 June 2013 12:13 TWEET COMMENTS 15

Trail Running in a War Zone

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

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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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