O'Brother Where Art Thou

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Throughout the little time that we spend on this place called earth, we are for the most part, faced with tough decisions and we meet people that become surrogate family members even though there is no DNA genetic link. Such is true for those who have served in the military where life and death decisions are made regularly and there is an inexplicable bond established between those whose shared experiences will last until the end of time. Some people describe this bond akin to that of “family.” I would not. To me, this bond is more than that, as lengthy deployments and the hardship of combat bond you into “one.” This is why we refer to our unit at public settings as the “one.” Ergo, “I served in “X” unit and we led the raid on bah bah bah.” When the loss of a unit member occurs, it is emotionally devastating to the surviving unit members regardless of rank. You never forget regardless of whether you served one term of service or retired after many years. At unit gatherings where a roll call is conducted, when the lost member does not answer, the sound of taps honoring their ultimate sacrifice cries out and asks, “O’Brother where art thou?”

This past week, I learned that my friend and mentor, Colonel Richard “Dick” McEvoy, U.S. Army (Retired), was killed by a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 22, 2015. Having retired in 2008 from the U.S. Army, Dick was working as a contractor for DynCorp International as the program manager responsible for the Afghan National Army/Afghan National Police Advisor and Mentor Program.

I am still in shock that he is no longer with this world, as he and I shared many dangerous experiences and missions over the eighteen years that we knew each other. This past Wednesday, Dick made the journey back to Dover Air Force Base, where he was met by his immediate family.

I first met Dick at Fort Drum, New York in 1997, when he was the Battalion Commander for 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, and I was the Chief of Training, Operations Directorate (G3), 10th Mountain Division. I immediately liked him and the bond between us was instant. When I left my position as the Chief of Training, Dick and I lost touch with each other, but that wouldn’t be for long.

In the summer of 1999, the U.S. Army reassigned me to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Fort Polk, Louisiana, and upon my arrival, the very first person I came across in the parking lot was Dick McEvoy. With an infectious smile and imposing demeanor, Dick welcomed me to Fort Polk and asked about my assignment. When he learned that I was not yet assigned, he told me, “You’re going to be my operations officer.” And so with a simple office call with the Commander, Operations Group (COG), JRTC, I was assigned to Battalion Task Force #1, as Dick’s operations officer. Now if that wasn’t meant to be, I don’t know what was.

As a reference point for those who are not familiar with JRTC, this is the U.S. Army’s premier Training Center for Light/Airborne Infantry Battalions/Brigades and Special Operations forces, who conduct missions with other services in a Joint environment.

In the summer of 2000, while waiting for our air force platform to drop us into Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as part of an airborne troop parachute drop, Dick asked me where I thought my new assignment would be. After replaying my conversation with the COG earlier that day to him, he flatly told me, “No, you’re going to be my XO [executive officer] at brigade.” And so, it was off to another adventure as his executive officer, call sign B05 [pronounced Bravo Zero Five].

During the next twelve months as B05, Dick and I would parachute out of many air force aircraft at night together, deploy to Kosovo, and train thousands of U.S. Forces for combat missions abroad. He was the best leader, trainer and mentor that I’ve ever known. His mastery of the After-Action-Review (AAR) process enabled units training at JRTC to capitalize both on their strengths and weaknesses, ultimately getting better, saving countless lives. As his junior, he taught me the art and science of the AAR which I used later when I was the senior officer of my own Battalion Task Force organization.

During the entire time that I worked for Dick, I had a knack for finding him on the battlefield. Go to the high ground, and there he would be, observing unit movement and mentoring his counterpart. When Dick would see me, it was always, “Hey B05…how you doing?” There was only one exception. On September 11, 2001, we were both in one of the JRTC mock villages when the planes struck the twin towers. I remember asking him if this attack meant we were now at war. He looked me in the eye and said “yeah, we’re at war with someone now.”

In 2007, many years later after the attack on the twin towers in New York City, I was assigned as the Chief of Operations, Strategic Operations Directorate, Multi-National Forces, Iraq. One evening in the Mess Hall [called dining facilities now] I heard the familiar call of “hey B05,” and there was my friend, sitting not far from me with a huge smile. In a place of chaos and carnage, it was good to see a familiar friendly face. Dick had a way of focusing on what was important and letting all the other bureaucratic nonsense roll off of him. I admired that quality in him.

Dick has always gone to the sound of the guns and so it was not a surprise to me when he went to work for DynCorp after he retired from the U.S. Army. He believed deeply in freedom and liberty, and the defeat of terrorism in the region. He knew the risk of serving in a combat zone and was willing to be a part of something bigger than one’s self. This is who Dick McEvoy was as a man, husband, father, and warrior soldier.

Sometimes, you meet someone who has had a profound effect on your life. I can honestly say that Dick McEvoy made a difference in my life. He challenged me to be a better person and a better leader. I will be forever grateful.

It is difficult for me to believe that such a good human being has been taken from this earth when we’re in such dire need of his quality personality. I will miss him dearly. In time, Dick will take his place in Arlington, a resting place of heroes. I will be there to see him and thank him for his service to this great nation. He has given so much and asked for so little. And so when Taps is played in his honor and we ask through our tears, “O’Brother where art thou?” Dick will be sitting on the high ground, looking down on our sorrow, knowing that we will be will be just fine in the end. With his mission on earth now complete, Dick will no doubt assume a role looking out for soldiers in heaven, it’s who he is. Farewell my friend, B05 out.

Colonel (Ret) John D. Vernon, USA, is the author of “Angels Watching Over Me” and is the CEO, American Warrior Press. Learn more at http://americanwarriorpress.com and follow him on twitter @JOHNDVERNON1. ©JohnVernon2015

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