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Hurlburt author recalls tragic events in "Operation Homecoming"

Army Chaplain (Col.) Richard Rogers leads a prayer March 25, 2003, for six Airmen killed when their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near Ghazni, Afghanistan, on March 23. The remains were flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Photograph by U.S. Army Pvt. Terri Rorke)

Army Chaplain (Col.) Richard Rogers leads a prayer March 25, 2003, for six Airmen killed when their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near Ghazni, Afghanistan, on March 23. The remains were flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Photograph by U.S. Army Pvt. Terri Rorke)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- "The Day of the Dragon" by Maj. Robert Lindblom, Air Force Special Operations Command, has been selected to be included in "Operation Homecoming," a compilation of stories by U.S. Service-members and their families, sharing their personal war-time experiences, which will be released Sept. 12 at the Library of Congress.

The heartrending personal narrative, which details the crash of Komodo 11, a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, was chosen out of several hundred entries.

In the spring of 2004, and for the first time in history, the National Endowment for the Arts asked military personnel and their families to write about their wartime experiences. Encouraged by such authors as Tom Clancy, Mark Bowden, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Jeff Shaara and Marilyn Nelson, who visited military bases throughout the U.S. as part of the larger "Operation Homecoming" initiative, American troops and their loved ones sent in more than 10,000 pages of short stories, personal letters, poems, private journals, and other writings about what they saw, heard, and felt while in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on the home front. The NEA selected the 100 best of these submissions to be published in the collection.

Andrew Carroll, the book's editor, will embark on a more than 30-city book tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. Right after Veterans Day, Mr. Carroll will travel to military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Germany to hand-deliver copies of "Operation Homecoming" to troops who have writings in the book.

Major Lindblom, a part-time, freelance writer, has written a dozen stories and articles, some of which have appeared in "Sail" magazine, "Writer's Journal," "Writer's Digest," and will appear in "The Binnacle" magazine this fall. He was compelled to write about the Komodo 11 crash because of the unique opportunity it provided to tell the true story of life during wartime.

"I think the general public has a desire to know what it's really like and would like to read about the challenges we face in the course of defending our country," said Major Lindblom. "This particular story will be interesting to readers since it deals with a different aspect of war - the struggles of our small unit to overcome the loss our commander."

He was deployed to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, with the 41st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron from February through April 2003. He flew combat rescue missions and managed day-to-day flight activities.

"Komodo 11 was the lead aircraft of a two ship HH-60G formation," Major Lindblom said. "They launched out of Kandahar on March 23 to rescue two children injured in the northern part of the country. Enroute to the pickup location, they had to complete an aerial refueling with an HC-130 Tanker.

"During the course of that refueling they struck a mountain, destroying the aircraft and killing all six crewmembers. Among those killed was the deployed commander, Lt. Col. John Stein, 41st Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga."

Major Lindblom also felt a need to tell the story because he wanted people to know about the sacrifices the crew made.

"I was close to the five men and one woman who were killed that day and I don't want them forgotten," Major Lindblom said.

Major Lindblom was interviewed about his story and the writing process for a documentary that was filmed about "Operation Homecoming" to be aired on PBS early next year.

He also read selected pieces from his story and those of some of the other writers. The film, which includes such celebrities as Kevin Costner, will be sent to high schools, universities and libraries for use in creative writing programs.

By writing about the ordeal, Major Lindblom found an outlet to channel his pain and grief.

When tragedy struck his unit, Major Lindblom not only had to cope with the personal and operational ramifications of the sudden crisis, he had to help his fellow airmen find meaning in the sacrifices they and other U.S. forces were making in the region.

"As the deployed operations officer for Kandahar at that time, Colonel Stein's death left me in charge of the remainder of our unit," Major Lindblom said. "I had to lead them through the aftermath and keep them focused on the mission - something I never expected to have to do."