In memoriam to my friend, Dan, I am posting this on the day of the his death. It was 13 years ago today that Dan lost his life in the mountains of Afghanistan. The grip of this death has held me tightly for years, and actually I don’t want it to let go. Dan was one of the first casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom, a story brilliantly told in The Only Thing Worth Dying For by Eric Blehm. A brief video gives an overview of this powerful book.
Many times casualties are lumped in with the “number of deaths” in any given war or battle. It is not very hard to forget that each death has a profound and unshakable impact on friends and family. Everything immediately stops at the moment of death. All that was going to be will never be. I completely understand that my previous statement is ridiculously obvious, but this is thought that friends and family cannot shake. What would he be like if . . . What would his children be like if . . . What if he would have taken a different road . . . Then again, I know in the deepest part of my soul that Dan was born to be a soldier. It was his calling.
ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) is a twelve man Special Forces team that is often known as the “A Team.” ODA-574 was placed in southern Afghanistan in 2001 to hook up with small fighter groups scattered in a heavy populated Taliban area. The Northern Alliance (a group of warlords who had fought the Taliban to a stalemate) had done significant work, but the argument was to see if it was really worth it to go south. It was the way to fight to the Taliban with the least amount of Americans on the ground at the time: rally small pockets of fighters, train them, and show them how to defeat the Taliban. Now placed in the southern region, ODA-574 was to work with a little known Popalzai tribal leader called Hamid Karzai, a man who had gone from village to village after the attacks of 9/11 to plea for an uprising to push out the Taliban from within, the ultimate objective being to secure the city of Tarin Kowt (the capital city of Urozgan Provence).
The small town had a major significance on the war on terror. An uprising against the Taliban had taken place in Tarin Kowt, and Karzai met the leaders to show support. The Taliban reacted by raising a force of over 1000 to re-take the town. The Taliban was going make an example out of every person in the town, threatening that nothing would live. A decision had to be made: stay or fight. With only 30-40 guerrilla fighters (sort of, really just farmers with Ak-47s) with ODA-574, it was no time to back down now . . . and the Taliban poured through the valley on their way to Tarin Kowt. Dan Petithory was part of that A-team who stood to help the oppressed in the face of overwhelming odds: De Oppresso Liber. Never heard of the Battle of Tarin Kowt? That’s okay. Most haven’t.
I think of Dan often and don’t miss him any less than the day I heard of his death. That occurred only three days after the Battle of Tarin Kowt. Friendship can stand the test of time. Dan is still my friend. He came close to being my brother-in-law, but then again that thought process starts the “what if” questions . . . I refuse to dwell on that. I like to focus on good memories and recognize my friend as a hero.