Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Good Man

I am in shock . . . so much violence, so many names, so many families broken.

Every time, a part of me hopes the names are unfamiliar, even though another part of me realizes this means I’m wishing tragedy on someone else. I hate myself for that. No one deserves this kind of tragedy. But I suppose to some extent it’s natural. Self defense.

In the military, everyone knows tragedy is an occupational hazard. You have to accept that, make peace with it, distance yourself from it. Or you’ll go crazy. When you see the names, you grieve because you have a connection; because, on some level, you understand. You imagine they were good men and women - like so many you know - dedicated to a cause they believed in. And you grieve for the loss.

Then there are the times you know they were good. You know they were dedicated. You see the names and remember.

Like Ryan Hall. And now JD Loftis.

It was March, 2009. In a couple weeks, I would report for pre-deployment training and head off to do a job that excited, but terrified me. I didn’t know anyone where I was going. That scared me the most.

My phone rang. On the other end was a kind voice, belonging to Major JD Loftis. I’d never met JD. He also worked at Hurlburt Field, but our paths had never crossed. They may never have crossed, except that he saw my name on a list, saw that I, like him, had been assigned to serve as an Information Operations Officer on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. He would also be reporting to training in April. He called to tell me that I wouldn’t be alone; that even though we’d never met, he’d be there to talk if I wanted to.

I don’t know if I ever told JD how much that phone call meant. I hope I did.

I hope he knew how I admired him. For his kindness, of course, which oozed out of him because that’s just the kind of person he was. It oozed through the phone line that day in March and into pre-deployment training, where we met the first day and I felt immediately comforted by his presence. Kindness followed him to Afghanistan, where we shared stories and ideas from across the country. He was never too busy to check in, to see how I was doing. Nine months later back at Hurlburt Field, JD's kindness continued. I still have the note he sent congratulating me on my military separation and wishing me luck.

I admired JD for his intelligence. He spoke fluent Pashtu, which allowed him to interact directly with the Afghan population rather than working through interpreters like the rest of us mere mortals. I witnessed his skills at training, saw the way the “role players” raised their eyebrows, impressed. But he wasn’t out to impress. JD was eager to learn all he could about Afghanistan and Pashtun culture. He wanted to understand the locals, wanted to help them understand us. He wanted to make a difference. That’s why he volunteered for the deployment.

I admired him for his dedication, too.

We had been back from Afghanistan for a while when JD called me again. He told me he'd been assigned a position with an elite group of senior military and civilian advisors focused on understanding the language, culture, and complexities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I don’t remember if he volunteered for the position, but he was excited. And he was perfect for the job.

It was a job that placed him in the Afghan Ministry of Interior in Kabul last Saturday, where, in the wake of protests over American troops' burning of religious materials, an Afghan man shot JD and Major Robert Marchanti at close range. Both men died of their wounds.

In a time like this, there are no words. No logical explanation for how JD’s passion and dedication, his commitment to making a better world, could result in his death. Nothing to offer his wife and two daughters other than thoughts and prayers. Nothing to comfort the Hurlburt community, which, as home to Air Force Special Operations Command acknowledges a greater risk of tragedy than most, but still feels the stabbing pain of every loss – and has been stabbed five times this week.

Perhaps it’s human nature to jump to political conclusions, to make lofty statements that "we shouldn’t be there" and "it’s time to leave." To get angry that the only discussion of war in the Presidential campaign is its impact on national debt.

But JD and his fallen comrades deserve more than that.

Remember them for the men they were: good men, dedicated men. And so much more.

On Jan. 17, 2013, a radio station in Qalat was completed and dedicated to JD.
On Feb. 25, 2013, the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School dedicated the Loftis auditorium in honor of JD.
Two reminders of the legacy of a great man.

In Memoriam:
Lieutenant Colonel John Darin Loftis and Major Robert Marchanti
Killed in Action, Feb 25 in Kabul, Afghanistan

Never Forget:
Capt Ryan P. Hall, Capt Nicholas S. Whitlock, 1st Lt Justin J. Wilkens, and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten
Killed in Action, Feb. 18 near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti


  1. God Bless and protect all of our men and women serving our country. We love you all!!!

  2. Several folks knew JD here at Schriever AFB as well....they only have great things to say about this American Hero. Thanks Lauren! -CF

  3. Lauren, I am J.D.'s mother and I have been following your blog. In case you haven't heard, the radio station in Qalat has been completed and dedicated to J.D. You can 'Google' Qalat Radio Station if you want to read the article. Thank you for your kind words and Yhanksgiving you for your service.

    1. What a wonderful honor to hear from you. Thank you for passing along the information--I'm so glad J.D. is being commemorated in Qalat; I've added the article link to my blog. He was a remarkable man, and his legacy will live on. Thank you, always, for your sacrifice.

      A grateful American,

  4. I served with Darin at F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming. Unfortunately we were never officially crew partners, but I was lucky enough to pull a few alerts with him. I was always happy to see him as my commander when the monthly schedule came out. He gave me some really useful advice that helped me land the job I have now. I may end up going to Afghanistan as part of my job. If I go, I will try to honor J.D.'s memory.

    John C. Taylor
    U.S. State Department

    1. Thank you for your comments, John. JD was so wise and touched so many lives. I wish you well in your future service.

  5. Thank you very much for sharing your reminiscences about the late Lt Col Loftis. I was assigned to the same unit (the Special Operations School, just across the street from your old PA shop), so I was fortunate enough to get to know him during the short time my assignment there overlapped with his before his deployment to Kabul as an AfPak Hand. Col Loftis' compassion and sensitivity to others was evident in his capacity to lead by example in embodying the traits of a good advisor. As an advisor myself (but not of the AfPak variety), I couldn't help but feel a bit of professional envy in seeing the extent to which he was capable of immersing himself in the ways of the Afghan language and culture. His dedication was an inspiration to others, including me. 25 Feb 12 was a very difficult day for everyone back at his home unit. I'm often reminded of him, not just on 25 Feb and the Memorial Day each year. A true "silent professional", he left behind a legacy that more people from our country would do well to honor and learn from.

    Seung-Jae Oh

    University of Notre Dame

    1. Thanks for sharing your memories, Seung-Jae. JD was an amazing man whose legacy lives on through the lives of all those he worked with.