- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This Navy photo of sailors making snow angels on the USS Eisenhower is supposed to be cute. But I almost gasped when I saw it, because it immediately reminded me of the bodies of al Qaeda fighters I saw atop “Roberts Ridge” at the Shah-i-Kot/Anaconda battlefield in March, 2004. A U.S. bomb had landed in the middle of their fighting position, and they were all spread out around it, just as these sailors are. It reminded me of the photographs of Gettysburg the day after that battle ended.
The bodies were so shocking that it was only a minute or so later when we realized that we were walking around ordnance that had been tossed everywhere — mortar shells and RPGs.
I have two other strong memories of that day. One was that we were so high up that the attack helicopters couldn’t fly up to where we were (but the Chinooks could, and two had been shot down). The other was that the al Qaeda command-and-control bunker we found had solar panels to power its communications.
Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class RYAN U. KLEDZIK/U.S. Navy