Last summer I wrote about the departure of Colorado Army National Guard Space Support Teams 15 & 28 for their active duty deployment to Afghanistan. Last week they returned home following nine months of barracks life in Kandahar and at Camp Leatherneck, respectively. Their welcoming ceremony was held in the Air and Space Museum at Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The crowd was about half the size of the one that saw them off on the first of July, and was largely composed of family members. Major Joe Verser, commander of Team 28 and my brother-in-law, joked that there seemed to have been more enthusiasm for getting them out of town than there was for their return. Fortunately, all returned unharmed and many of them noticeably skinnier than when they left.
It still isn’t entirely clear precisely what these tech jockeys were doing for the Marine Division they supported, nor are we likely to ever know, but apparently they did it well. They received ample kudos from the speakers, including a two star General who personally thanked each soldier for his service. At least one Afghani tribal chieftain had extended his compliments to Team 28 for its provision of topographic information he apparently required. I’m not quite sure what that means, and it was evident no one would be explaining. The long and short of their service is that these weekend warriors did their job and apparently did it well.
Little girls clung to the legs of Daddies they only remembered from pictures and one small boy stood next to his father and shook the hand of everyone who came through the reception line — his fingers wet and sticky from putting them in his mouth between handshakes. Lives are about to restart for these families. Jobs are waiting, but first the attachments that kept them going need to be reestablished with ample dollops of love and caring. Neighbors may not realize they were ever gone and new employees at work will wonder who they are and where they’ve been, while the distance between Denver and Kandahar will feel like a Star Trek “beaming” into a separate reality.
The Air and Space Museum at Petersen displays a lot of equipment and monitors from the initial Cheyenne Mountain ballistic missile control center. It feels like the set of a 1960s science fiction movie. And, of course, that’s because this equipment represented the furthest limits of technological prowess as conceived a half century ago. Today, it looks both clunky and primitive. A World War II P-47 fighter there still communicates an aggressive muscularity, but both are nothing more than the military tools Americans took to battle in the hot war of the 1940s, and the cold war that followed it. Tools used by dedicated citizen soldiers willing to risk their lives for the safety of ours.
Colorado’s Space Support Teams went to war with computers and satellites and drones that helped protect the troops they supported — troops who must do the dirty work on the rocky ground where the nature of war has changed little over the two millennia since Alexander the Great invaded Afghanistan. As I write this, the Pentagon has announced a diplomatic agreement with the Afghani government that will bring our troops home in 2014, and promises a decade of continuing support that may result in the barest sliver of a chance the second poorest nation on the planet will make the transition to a functioning democracy. Only history will inform us whether their sacrifices were justified, but each of them deserves our thanks for making the effort!
Miller Hudson is a contributing columnist for The Colorado Statesman. He is a former state representative from Denver, served as executive director of a public employee association, and has penned numerous articles and commentary on politics in the state.