The Madness of SPC Weichel

The Madness of SPC Weichel

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SPC Dennis Weichel, who died saving a young Afghan girl. (CNN)

For those of you who read my blog on at least a semi-regular basis, you’re at least passingly aware of the fact that I tend to retreat to my cave on Snark Mountain and lob comments of varying degrees of snark and professionalism at those running the Afghanistan fiasco.

And yes, it’s a fiasco. A salvageable fiasco, granted. Will it be salvaged?

Not a chance.

We’re so far down the political rabbit hole on this thing that there is no chance of a successful outcome. The Pentagon’s running negotiations with the Taliban, double Afghanistan’s annual budget left the country last year in smuggled cash, and apparently you’ve got provincial governors wacking PRT commanders.

All that to say this: this is not my usual snark.

This is about a hero, and the madness of a moment in Laghman.

This is about the senseless heroism of SPC Dennis Welch. In that moment, he thought of nothing but a little girl. The madness of that man.

After the news of a U.S. soldier charged with murdering Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, the story of Spc. Dennis Weichel of the Rhode Island National Guard bears telling.

The official Pentagon news release says he died “from injuries suffered in a noncombat related incident.” But there is much more to the story. Weichel, 29, of Providence, died saving the life of a little girl.

According to the Rhode Island National Guard and the U.S. Army, Weichel was in a convoy a week ago with his unit in Laghman Province, in northeast Afghanistan. Some children were in the road in front of the convoy, and Weichel and other troops got out to move them out of the way.

Most of the children moved, but one little girl went back to pick up some brass shell casings in the road. Afghan civilians often recycle the casings, and the girl appeared to aim to do that. But a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle was moving toward her, according to Lt. Col. Denis Riel of the Rhode Island National Guard.

MRAPs, as they are known, usually weigh more than 16 tons.

Weichel saw the massive truck bearing down on the girl and grabbed her out of the way. But in the process, the armored truck ran him over, Riel said.

The little girl is fine. Weichel died a short time later of his injuries.

Bales? No matter how the talking heads vivisect his psyche from the comfort of TV land, getting paid to write articles speculating wildly about why he did what he did, they’ll never truly figure him out.

The arguments will be made that we need to know, that in order to prevent these kinds of things from happening again, we need to understand what went wrong.

How come we don’t spend more time trying to figure out what went right? How come we don’t try to figure out how to make more Weichels instead of how to prevent the Bales?

I’m not masochistic enough to do any in-depth research into how many hours of television have been devoted to SSG Bales.

I do know that Good Morning America has already spent quite a bit of airtime on the Bales’ case, from his financial past, to his injuries, to more unfounded speculation about his mental health. Over several days.

Weichel? 34. Seconds.

Toward the beginning of the clip, the phrase: “Now a story of uncommon sacrifice.”

Uncommon.

As if this sort of selfless act is somehow…unusual.

That Weichel in a moment suffered a mental break that caused him to do something he and his comrades would never usually do.

Allow me to retort:

My former arms room NCO:

SSG Gregory Pennington.
SSG Gregory Pennington

Greg died during a mortar attack. Why? Because he was making sure others made it to the bunkers before he did.

My old battalion commander’s gunner:

SSG Eric Ross
SSG Eric Ross

Eric led his squad into a house that turned out to be an HBIED (House Borne Improvised Explosive Device). That’s a cool Army way of saying “booby trapped house.” The Iraqi squad he was helping support was too afraid to go in, so Eric’s squad went first.

A friend who I happened to run into on Afghanistan on what turned out to be the last day of his life.

SFC Jim Thode
SFC Jim Thode

I told his dumb ass to stay safe.

Jim opted out of an assignment at headquarters so he could be with his team. Part of a route clearance package, (RCP), Jim stepped on an IED set specifically to target units like his.

Sure, they were all doing their job. Sure, they all volunteered for military service. Sure, they all knew the risks they took every day.

But uncommon? Mad, even?

If so, I wish we were all that kind of crazy. But here’s the thing: Bales is the aberration, not Weichel. Bales is the exception that proves the Weichel rule.

America, if I get one thing through your Kardashian-addled brains, it would be this: the men and women in uniform that spend every day of their lives making sure you get to sleep soundly in your bed at night are, by and large, the sort of people that should humble you. Make you marvel at the fact that you share a species with them, much less a national identity.

This is not a call for service: they chose to serve. You did not. That’s fine.

But consider this: what if we spent as much time figuring out how to duplicate the Weichels of the world, as we do determining how we can prevent the (very) occasional tragedy that are events like Panjwai and SSG Bales? What if the psychiatrists and psychologists took the time to figure out why Weichel did what he did, and instill that kind of heroism in everyone in a uniform?

Why?

Because that…doesn’t sell papers or adspace.

Breaking a story about how a father of three saved the life of a nameless Afghan child gives us all a moment to nod our heads that yes, indeed, Weichel was a hero.

A moment, and then we’re off looking for the next titillating tale of tragedy so we can start the collective head shaking at how someone, somewhere should pay for this.

The story got quite a bit of tweet action, but these three summed it up best for me:

That last, from Lauren?

Print that out, put it on your fridge, and look at it every time you think all is lost. That there is no good left in the world. That your armed forces are made up of people liable to snap at any moment.

If you do nothing else, remember Weichel. Forget Bales. There is good in us, America. Even here, what can often be a place where hope dies, crushed by the weight of a thousand good intentions, good can be done. Not long-term. Not sustainable, maybe, but…good.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “sustainable” is a buzzword created by those who’ve never had to watch someone bleed to death because they had the audacity to get a job with the only game in town. Since that job’s us, and people want us to go away…folks…get…dead.

I myself have used it. I think it has value, I do, but at the end of the day? It’s making sure a little girl gets to go home at least one more day.

So, SPC Weichel, here’s to you: insanely courageous bit of all that’s good in the world. I hope your brothers in arms make sure your children know this. Know that their dad, no matter what else may be true about him, cared enough about someone he didn’t know to pay that ultimate price. Someone who, maybe, for a moment, reminded him of one of his own.

Wherever you are, rest easy, soldier. You did good. May we all be so lucky to be so mad.