Here is a portion of the email I received a letter from Msgt Pam Christensen Pedersen she is serving in the Afghanistan with the Utah Air National Guard. (Please keep her in your prayers.)
I'm currently serving a 30-day rotation at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Our base was attacked on 19 May in the early pre-dawn hours and it was one of the scariest times of my life. In those moments, with helos overhead, mortar and rpg explosions going off, I thought "what if this is my last day - what if it's my time". It wasn't. But the battle lasted several hours, 16 insurgents were killed that day and some were wearing US Army uniforms. A civilian contractor that worked at the base died when he stepped on a land mine. After a few days to reflect on the events of that day this is the email I sent to family and friends and I pass it on to you.
23 May 2010 - I was so glad to have a chance to attend church on Sunday. Earlier that morning I had an hour to myself and I just laid down on my bed and listened to "Best Church" on the ipod. It was so relaxing. One of the songs had these words...."When I leave the safe harbor......when the journey takes it's toll....He is the anchor of my soul". I thought how many times in my life I've needed to rely on that "anchor". Each of you have helped make me a better person, wife, mother, sister, friend. I feel thankful for the twists and turns and ups and downs my life has taken. Every rut in the road, every false start and every mistake has been a lesson learned, a truth revealed and helped me on my journey. A chaplain was the speaker at church. He talked about the times he's sat at the beside of someone who is facing their own death and knows they have only minutes or hours to live. He said they never wanted to talk about the type of car they drove, the kind of house they lived in or how much money they had in their bank account. They wondered if they'd been a good person, if they could have been kinder. Some said they hadn't been a good person and they always thought they'd have more time to do things differently. That's one of the things we don't get much choice in. We never know when it will be our last day on earth. I don't think it matters what happens to take your life or the manner in which it ends: what's important is the direction we're headed when that day comes.
Love and thanks for the prayers and blessings,
Pamela Pedersen, MSgt, UTANG
Below is an article she wrote and published for the base newspaper.
Tears rolled down my face, unabated as a 9-foot segment of an I-beam that was once part of the World Trade Center was unveiled with the inscription “WTC 09-11-01”. I had walked around the burlap-covered structure earlier that morning and did not expect the sudden rush of emotion I felt as this section of steel was unveiled. It was donated by a citizens' group, the Sons and Daughters of America of Breezy Point, from a suburb in Queens, New York, where 29 victims of the Sept 11 attacks lost their lives on that fateful day.
Last fall, while on a trip to New York City, I had stood at “Ground Zero” and stared out into that vast expanse where two towers used to stand. I’d spent time in the church directly across from that place and saw the flowers, pictures, and burning candles that still keep vigil over that sacred ground. My hands have touched the statue that has been erected by the people of New Jersey honoring the first responders that didn’t make it home.
The donated beam arrived at Bagram Airfield in March, due to the efforts of a resident of Breezy Point who had recently served at Bagram and had redeployed home. As a tribute to its arrival March 31, U.S. Soldiers of the 612th Quarter Master Detachment sling-loaded the beam along with a U.S. flag from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and flew around the installation with the beam and flag displayed for all to see.
The Memorial Day ceremony opened with an invocation that included the words “In our grief, as we remember comrades we have lost in battle, let us also remember there are some things worth dying for”.
During remarks from the keynote speaker, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and leader of some 94,000 U.S. troops in the country, he emphasized the beam’s symbolism. Once it provided structure to a building so that life could be lived inside of it. Now, it would continue to provide structure in the mindset of troops and will remain on loan until the last American troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The beam will then be sent to Fort Bragg, N.C.
General McChrystal praised the soldiers for their sacrifice, telling them: 'You're giving your time for other families.' 'Today is about people. It is about the people we have lost and most importantly it's about the people who have been left behind,' General McChrystal said, referring to the families of those who have died.
A bugler played taps and a color guard displayed the U.S. flag and the flags of units serving in eastern Afghanistan where the base is located, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Kabul.
The heat was intense and unrelenting, but nearly forgotten as a 21-gun salute was rendered into a cloudless, azure sky.
These were the first gun shots I’d heard since the attack on BAF on 19 May, shortly after I first arrived in Bagram. I flinched as the first shots were fired, but held fast during the second volley and didn’t blink as the 3rd volley ended.
There was a Moment of Silence for all those that had been lost on any battlefield fighting for the freedoms that all Americans enjoy today. The band played the medley of all the services. Beginning with the Marine Hymn – I thought of my son-in-law, a Marine who has already served two tours in Iraq. His father and grandfather before him were also Marines. The Navy hymn began to play and I thought of the 20 years my father served and of the nights our family watched the nightly news while he was aboard an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Golf during the Vietnam War. I thought of friends I knew whose fathers never made it home from that war. The Coast Guard Hymn began and I thought of the men and women on Coast Guard cutters on September 11th, who valiantly played their part and accepted their call to destiny that day. The Air Force Hymn: “Off we go into the wild, blue yonder….. and I thought of how many times I had done just that. I thought of the many times I had stood at attention at memorials, tributes and funerals and on flight lines honoring fallen members of our Air Force family. The Army hymn came last: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” – and here in Afghanistan, I see these brave men and women “lock-and-load” as they climb aboard their MRAPS and head “outside the wire” in the early morning pre-dawn hours.
I miss my family, a hot bath, an outdoor barbecue with friends, and the spring breezes flowing down through the Oquirrh Mountains, but on this day, Memorial Day, 2010, standing shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe with a group of over 400 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines there is no place I’d rather be than under a blistering sun, rendering a salute and participating in a moment of silence and remembrance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.