It’s a call I didn’t want to make.  It’s a call I debated making. It’s a call I didn’t make until I was about to board my flight.

Dad answered the phone.  “Hey, it sounds really clear. What’s new?” I asked if Mom were home and he said yes. I asked him to put her on the line, too.

“I’m doing well. Tired.”

 I’d flown from Portland, Oregon to Amsterdam to Kuwait with six-hour layovers at each destination. They knew I’d traveled to Kuwait to visit a friend. They weren’t excited about it, though they accepted and supported my decision.

“I’m flying to Afghanistan tonight.”

“Oh Cher,” my mom said. Long silence from dad.

I explained my decision. I’d started this story, covering the soldiers and their families of the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, when I was teaching at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Last February, three students accompanied me on an embed to document the soldiers training at NTC in the Mojave Desert for their deployment. At that time, Brigade Commander Col. Wood and  1-5 Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Brian Payne invited us to visit them downrange. Many soldiers invited us to join them in Afghanistan. They’d planted a seed.

My former student, JR Ancheta, and I discussed the possibility over the summer. I began looking into the possibility in earnest in the fall. We took baby steps: an Afghan visa, embed credentials and authorizations. Next came the search for contacts and a flight from Ali Al Salem base in Kuwait. Once we secured the ITO (Invitational Travel Order) for Kuwait and press credentials, I scouted for tickets. $2,000 for RT airfare. $1,100 for “war zone” medical and accident, death and dismemberment insurance (more on that later.) We bought our tickets on Wednesday, Dec. 7. We bought the insurance on Dec. 12 and we flew out on Dec. 14.

I wasn’t going to tell my parents. I didn’t want to spoil their holidays. I didn’t want them to worry. As the time got closer to our potential flight departure, I decided I wanted to tell them. I know I’d cause them plenty of worry over the years…a Christmas years ago in Mogadishu comes to mind. Dad mentioned it in our conversation.

Mom and Dad said they were glad I’d told them. They’d keep me and JR in their prayers. They’re going to worry…and I’m going to worry a bit about them worrying. And then we’ll press on…all of us. It’s an Army tradition, a Hatch tradition.

Here’s the email I found waiting for me an hour after my call:

“We’re glad you told us but are concerned about your safety. However, we have confidence in your decisions and common sense. I am sure you will listen to those who have agreed to take care of you, particularly that Lt. Col and his Sgt Major. I’m very proud of your  commitment to visit with those in harm’s ways. Our prayers are with you. In my eyes  you have earned every bit of care and protection the good Lord provides to you. GOD BLESS Cher. Love, from a very proud dad.”

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