U.S. Army Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, steps on board a C-17 transport plane as the last U.S. service member to leave Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 30, 2021. (XVIII Airborne Corps/Handout/Reuters) Soldiers aren’t supposed to leave fallen comrades to fall into the hands of the enemy.
These are the times that try men’s souls.
By now everyone has seen it. The image of a solitary man walking up the ramp of an aircraft, dressed in full kit with a rifle in his hand. The picture is rendered in grainy night-vision green, making the soldier’s blurry expression unreadable. No one but Major General Chris Donahue knows what he was thinking when he boarded the last C-17 to leave Afghanistan.
But I can guess.
Full disclosure: I don’t know, nor have I ever served with, General Donahue. But a friend of mine who does and did described the general as a soldier’s soldier. After a brief look at General Donahue’s resume, I can understand why. Though he’s currently the commander of the vaunted 82nd Airborne Division, General Donahue has a history of serving in elite units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment and Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force.
Members of the special-operations community are a breed apart. Their training is more rigorous, their deployments more frequent, and their casualty rates often more grievous than conventional units. They proudly wear berets, or tabs, or tridents that announce to the world their membership in this most elite of fraternities. But it is what is written on their hearts that truly sets them apart. One of these differences is elegantly captured by the Fifth Stanza of the U.S. Army Ranger Creed, which reads, in part: “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.”
On June 28, 2005, I saw this play out firsthand in Afghanistan. I was the air-mission commander of a flight of Black Hawks and Apache helicopters desperately
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