‘I think she just made contact . . . Standby’: Escape from Kabul

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Danny: Relayed your picture. Their view.

The photograph is taken by Shah. He is wedged into the crowd, so the frame is mostly consumed by the backs of other people’s heads. In the distance you can see a pair of Marines barricaded behind a concrete wall with a roll of concertina wire unspooled across its top and a security camera with its black orbed lens dangling overhead on a small crane.

Richardella: They are in front of the vehicle entrance the fence gate is to their left on the south side of the t-wall. They need to move back, go around and swing left.

Danny: Rgr. Communicating it to him.

Richardella: The canal is to their left. That’s the catching feature. Hit the canal and turn right. Come to the fenced gate.

A minute of silence passes.

Richardella: Got visual. Keep coming forward.

Danny: Lost comms he’s moving.

Richardella: We’re moving now. We see him.

Danny: On phone w Shah that’s him

Richardella: We have him.

Danny: I love you. Thank you sir.

I have since arrived at my gate. My son is sitting beside me, playing a World War II fighter pilot game on his iPad. He blasts Nazi Messerschmitts and Japanese Zeros out of the sky. The other children are doing much the same, playing games on their phones or their iPads, watching videos, gently bickering with each other and generally killing the 30 or so minutes until we board our flight. My wife slips into the seat next to mine. “You OK?” she asks. I show her my phone. She scrolls through the past 15 minutes or so of messages. My wife cries easily — I’ve even seen her cry watching football. It’s one of the many things I love about her. When she hands me back my phone, she is wiping tears from her eyes and she says only, “Thank God.”

At this, my son glances up at the two of us and asks, “Are you guys OK?”

“We’re fine,” says my wife. “Some people who your dad has been trying to help look like they’re going to get out of Afghanistan.”

“But that’s good news,” he says. “Why are you both crying?”

My wife places her hand on the back of my neck. Very quietly, she says, “I think I’m just happy for those people.” Then she looks at me and adds, “And I’m happy for your dad.”

My son sits up straight, flaring back his shoulders ever so slightly. He puts his hand on my shoulder. He considers me for a moment like a general reviewing one of his troopers in the ranks, and with all the seriousness, composure and gravitas a 9-year-old boy might muster he says, “Good work, Dad. I’m happy for you too.” Then he goes back to his game.

In the chat, we’re trying to confirm that everyone got through the gate, that in the chaos no one was inadvertently left behind. Ian reposts the manifest for Richardella to confirm. In addition to confirming the manifest and that consular services have now processed everyone into the airport, Richardella posts a selfie. Shah stands center frame with his left arm embracing Forozan. To their right is Richardella whose arm is outstretched as he snaps the picture. He still wears his helmet and body armor, with a small and familiar 1st Battalion, 8th Marines unit crest velcroed to his chest alongside his rank insignia. The eight others in the group are huddled around these three, cramming themselves into the frame. Their smiles are unrestrained.

Ian writes, Heroes.

I write the same.

Danny writes, I’m crying. Heroes. There’s the fucking mannnnn