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Last boots on the ground

By Teresa P. Crowder
Freelance Writer

While several young adults were making plans to attend college in the fall, start a new job, or whisk away for one more vacation, Benji Bower was in Kabul, Afghanistan, toe to toe with the dreaded Taliban.
His 82nd airborne battalion was charged with securing the Hamid Karzai Airport so evacuations could take place.
Bower was there in the crowds of the desperate
Afghan people who tried to seek asylum from the terror of the Taliban. These individuals would approach Bower, waving their hands or potential paperwork as if he could somehow help them escape and provide refuge for a fate they did not want to accept. These frightened men, women, and children tried to get on planes, often holding on when they departed as if death was
better than life with the Taliban.
Being part of the Immediate Reaction Battalion, Bower had to have a bag packed and be ready to go and serve at a moment’s notice. He could find himself anywhere in the world within the 18-hour time frame. Kabul was now the destination, and it was a concern as he and his colleges had no idea what to expect upon arrival to the country the United States has been in a war with for the last 20 years. “The first day was the longest and the worst, “Bower said. “It was the day the news showed the civilians rushing the airport and falling from planes. They were scared, running and trampling each other trying to get out of the country.”
There was no way to identify friend from foe immediately. “Most of the culture dressed the same, and you really would not know you were face to face with a member of the Taliban until it may have been too late,” said Bower.
The orders were not to fire unless fired upon and to use common sense. There were about 3,000 troops at the airport attempting to keep peace and clear the way for departures. Considering the airport’s size and chaos all around, it was reportedly “not nearly enough boots on the ground to complete the task at hand.
As mentioned by recent reports, the Taliban had checkpoints everywhere, and at one time, threats of suicide bombing and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices began to stream in. The Taliban wanted the US out and out now. Any action at any moment had the capacity to change the course of history for those serving and their families as well as for our country and the world.
“We had talked to the marines working at the Abby Gate,” Bower said. “A buddy of mine had stepped away for a quick smoke break, and it was then the suicide bomber detonated the bomb. It was the deadliest day in 10 years in Afghanistan. When our platoon sergeant told us what happened, I just put my head between my legs and said a prayer for the injured and their families.”
The mission continued, and finally, the highly anticipated departure day arrived.
It was time to go. Bower was among the last of the soldiers to depart from Afghanistan that day. Kuwait was the next stop for about two weeks, then home to Fort Bragg.
Bengi Bower has walked in the footsteps of both Danny Cornett and Bill Bowers, Sr. The military moments and memories of these families will be shared for generations to come.