CW3 Anastasios G. Christian
It was a hot humid day in Danang, Vietnam. Our team had just returned from rucking the hills in Quang Nam Province followed by a one-hour helicopter ride back to the airfield. We disembarked the helicopter as the stifling heat burned through our lungs. Everyone was exhausted, sweaty and filthy. The medic assisted some of the team in removing leeches from their bodies while the team leader went over the next day's schedule. It was about 1800 hours when we finally settled down and relaxed along China Beach. Sounds like it could have been 1969 doesn't it? Try again… it was actually June 1999.
We had just wrapped up the last investigation of our 30 day mission in Vietnam. The reason for humping through the mountains was not a combat patrol, but for an investigation of an unresolved missing in action (MIA) case in Vietnam. The helicopter ride wasn't on a UH-1 (Huey) but rather on a Russian MI-17 (HIP), flown by contracted Vietnamese pilots. Yes, China Beach does exist. But we were not on R&R nor were we in tents. We were staying at a hotel our last two nights in Vietnam that just happened to be on China Beach.
Following a long day's work, our nine-man team decided to take a swim in the hotel's salt-water pool. A few other Americans began to show up poolside. Following some introductions and small talk we discovered they were former soldiers that had fought in Vietnam during the war and were back for their 30 year reunion. They were all Army soldiers who served with the 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division. They too had a long day… physically and emotionally. They had just returned from hilltop 386 where they held a memorial service for one of their good friends who lost his life and was also a Medal of Honor recipient.
Shortly after, I was introduced to a gentleman named John. We began talking and swapping Army stories (like all good soldiers do) when he told me he was a former Warrant Officer. He flew UH-1 helicopters during the war. We instantly bonded and our friendship had been forged.
I told him we were part of Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and our mission is to achieve the fullest accounting possible of missing Americans as a result of the war in Southeast Asia. We were just finishing up our 30 day mission. John was thrilled to learn the military continues to search for MIAs and immediately requested my assistance in obtaining information on two of his fellow Warrants from the war that have been missing since 1969. Being a fellow Warrant and understanding his concern, I told one of the team members to go get his lap top computer. I searched our database and found the information John had been seeking for 30 years. He nearly broke down in tears as I told him the status of his friends' cases. They were both still active cases that we continue to investigate. His wife commented to me that John has been searching for information on his friends for years and that it had always troubled him not knowing what ever happened to them. The information he researched on the internet had been inaccurate. He couldn't get an honest answer about his friends until that day.
As I think back, it's quite ironic I met John and his buddies from the 17th Cavalry. I was only seven years old when they were fighting in Vietnam. To have met him in Vietnam 30 years later and to put his mind to rest on such a troubling issue was quite gratifying for me. Was it fate that we would meet? Who knows and it really doesn't matter. What does matter is there was something more to it than just one soldier talking to another former soldier. It was one Warrant talking to another Warrant as if there were no gap between our ages or years of service. One of the reasons I decided to become a Warrant Officer is the camaraderie and professionalism we share among each other that cannot be found anywhere else in the Army. John was pleased to learn the reasons for becoming a Warrant Officer have not changed in 30 years.
John continued asking me questions about today's Warrants. I answered his questions and ensured him the Warrant Officer Corps is stronger than ever. I could see the pride glowing through his eyes as he lifted his glass and toasted the Warrant Officer Corps. The rest of the evening I spent meeting the other veterans and telling more war stories. From that point on, I was known to all as "hefe" (slang for chief).
I will never forget that evening on China Beach when I met a former Warrant Officer named John. The stories he shared with me about his fellow Warrants during the war were priceless. I told the group of vets they were one of the reasons we continue to do what we do. For the families and friends of those who lost loved ones in the war, we will continue our mission of achieving the fullest possible accounting. As the evening drew to an end, I turned to John and thanked him for his selfless service to our country, shook his hand and said, "once a Warrant, always a Warrant."
CW3 Anastasios G. Christian is an All Source Intelligence Technician serving as a Vietnamese analyst with Joint Task Force Full Accounting, Camp Smith, Hawaii (1998-Present). Previous assignments include 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (1980-1984) where he served as an intelligence analyst and deployed with the brigade S-2 to Grenada. Served as an intelligence analyst S2, 1-62 ADA Battalion, 25th Infantry Division (1984-1988). All Source Intelligence Technician with the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps (1988-1992) where he deployed with the Corps to Panama (Just Cause) and Southwest Asia (Desert Shield/Storm). He returned to Hawaii (1992-1996) to serve in the G2, 25th Infantry Division and deployed to Haiti in support of operation Uphold Democracy. Chief, All Source Section, 103rd Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Stewart, Georgia (1996-1998).