Memorial Day In Kandahar: A Run To Honor America's Fallen

May 30, 2016
Originally published on May 31, 2016 3:02 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the past 15 years, 1,832 American servicemen and women have been killed in action in Afghanistan. Today at Kandahar airfield, a race was organized to remember the fallen. Brigadier General Tony Aguto had this to say.

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TONY AGUTO: I am honored to be here serving with each and every one of you. And I thank God every day for each of you. Enjoy your run. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for your service. Thank your families for their service. God bless.

CHANG: Our Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us from there. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So you were there at the beginning of the race. What was that like?

BOWMAN: Well, Ailsa, they had a couple of hundred runners, and almost everyone here has a personal connection. They know someone who has died here. And you have to remember, these are young people. They're in their 20s and 30s. They've witnessed horrible losses. So Memorial Day really means a lot more to them than most of us, who, let's face it, look to this day as a beginning of summer, a day for car sales, barbeques. And also, you know, the personal connection to warfare and combat death, the true meaning of this day, to remember the fallen, that's really lost for most Americans.

CHANG: And I imagine you got a chance to meet a lot of people there. What conversations struck you?

BOWMAN: Well, one of the soldiers I talked to is Major Kevin McCormick. He's a trainer. And we actually met him a few days ago for a story we're working on. And he was running in memory of his friend Tim McGovern, who was killed in Mosul, Iraq, on October 31, 2007 by a roadside bomb. Let's take a listen to what he said.

KEVIN MCCORMICK: Went to college together. We actually lived together in an apartment for a year. You know, he was my best friend. Did a lot - just about everything together. He was actually - we were always neck and neck for number one and number two in our class. He was actually the better leader, but I had the better grades. He was a big guy, heart of gold. I know his family, great - I just got a email from his mom a couple - you know, about a week or so ago. So yeah, he definitely hasn't been forgotten.

CHANG: Tom, most of the people now on the base are trainers, right, as opposed to combat troops. Is it a lot safer now there?

BOWMAN: You know, Ailsa, it is a lot safer for most people. There are roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, and most of them are working inside large bases. They're training Afghan forces. And there is the threat of a suicide attack, a rocket or mortar flying into the base. But that's very rare. But you do have the American special operators - Navy SEALs, Green Berets - going out on some missions, either working with either Afghan commandos or going after al-Qaida and ISIS. So they're still in harm's way. And we went out the other night, by the way, on American helicopters with Afghan commandos. They were heading into a Taliban-controlled area. There were a couple of Green Berets onboard as advisors.

They didn't get off the helicopter to fight this time, but it does happen. And the last hostile death here was earlier this year. It was an American Green Beret, a Sergeant named Matthew McClintock of New Mexico. He was killed in an operation just west of here in a place called Marjah, a place that still has a lot of Taliban in an area that Afghans - and maybe some Americans - will be clearing out in the coming weeks and months.

CHANG: That was NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks so much for joining us.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.