Images courtesy: Jim Beam
Operation Moshtarak, a critical coalition operation aimed at crushing insurgents and terrorists in southern Afghanistan, has been filled with heavy fighting, incredible heroism, and painful sacrifices. Many valiant Americans who should be household names, like Lance Cpl. Eric Ward and Lance Cpl. Christopher Rangel, have lost their lives while taking the fight to al Qaeda and the Taliban. That important fact is certainly not lost on Capt. Adam Campbell, a Marine pilot who supported his fellow volunteer warriors in combat from the sky.
"Those guys deserve all the credit," Capt. Campbell told The Unknown Soldiers. "Without them...they’re the ones living in the villages away from e-mail and images from home; they’re the ones making the ultimate sacrifice. They are truly the bravest individuals."
From November 2009 to June 2010, Campbell was stationed in Kandahar, perhaps the single most important strategic hotspot for America and its allies in Afghanistan.
"Our main mission was to provide close air support in combat situations," the Marine said. "We helped Soldiers and Marines on the ground, and our sensors helped them find IED's."
Campbell told me that flying daily missions in one of the world's most dangerous regions was "a dream come true," which might sound puzzling to some readers. Why would someone want to put their life on the line every day, and witness so much carnage on the ground below? For Adam Campbell, service had always been a lifelong goal, and the horrific events of September 11, 2001, cemented his resolve to fight for his country.
"9/11 hit close to home," Campbell, who was attending New Jersey's Monmouth University at the time, explained. "A bunch of my friends lost loved ones on 9/11, and that got the fire inside me going."
The three loves of Capt. Campbell's life are his spouse, flying, and horse racing, which he grew up enjoying on nearby Jersey Shore tracks. While he flew high above the Afghan mountains every day during his deployment, he missed his wife dearly, and frequently asked her to keep him up-to-date on all the big races. Unbeknownst to the Marine, Melanie Campbell would nominate him to be recognized by Jim Beam and Operation Homefront's "Salute Soldiers with the Spirit of America" program, which led to an experience every horse racing fan dreams of.
"Operation Homefront allowed me to go to the Breeders' Cup," Campbell said just a few days after returning from Louisville, Kentucky. "The whole weekend was first-class, they took care of everything."
Adam and Melanie Campbell witnessed a race for the ages, when previously undefeated Zenyatta's valiant comeback fell just short of Blame in a breathtaking photo finish. Even though the race was an unforgettable experience that he is deeply thankful for, Capt. Campbell couldn't help but reflect on more than seven months of tense moments up in the air, and fallen heroes who will never again get to enjoy time with family and friends at exciting sporting events.
"The first initial feeling I had was guilt, because everyone deserves this. There are other people more deserving than me, the people making the ultimate sacrifice," Campbell said. "I was humbled to be selected."
Simply put, Jim Beam and Operation Homefront support the troops. On September 11, 2010, I attended a Kid Rock concert at South Carolina's Fort Jackson that was free to everyone with a military ID. Thanks to these organizations, the thousands of troops in attendance had an incredible night, and Capt. Campbell's Breeders' Cup weekend is another example of their willingness to give back.
But at this very moment, there are about 200,000 Americans in war zones, unable to rock out at a concert or scream their lungs out at a horse race. They need our support, and Campbell has suggestions on how we can help.
"When I was over there, we got care packages, from family and people we have never met and never will meet," the Marine said. "That people are willing to send small things like deodorant, razors, or candy, it just meant the world to us."
Campbell also mentioned getting letters from schoolchildren over the holidays, which was also a big morale booster. If you have a son or daughter in school, perhaps you could ask their teachers to have classes write letters to our brave men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Few activities can better demonstrate the values of patriotism and selfless sacrifice to our youngest citizens, while also putting a smile on the faces of our heroes overseas.
After answering the call to serve when America was attacked, this Marine pilot saved many lives on the ground while navigating the uncertain Afghan skies. He is now stationed in Florida, giving flight instructions to aspiring aviators who will likely be called upon to protect the nation in combat. After having the honor of speaking with this war veteran, it is clear that he feels blessed to be fulfilling his dreams as a pilot, enjoying time with his wife, and watching the sport he loves. America is also blessed to have volunteer warriors like Capt. Adam Campbell protecting us from above.