Veterans Day: Soldiers and Birds of Afghanistan

Mondrian Vets near Broadway and 23rd

Looking like they’d wandered into a Mondrian painting, these vets were part of a crowd of soldiers and veterans that gathered at Madison Square Park for last Thursday’s Veterans Day Parade.  The sky was a cloudless blue and the morning bright and mild.

Rhythms with Black and White by Piet Mondrian

Vets of every description gathered before the parade

So young


Veterans for Peace


Lost in thought


A notably young crowd of vets gathered to march with IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

IAVA volunteers greet a marcher


IAVA gave out hoodies that proclaim “We’ve got your back.” And they do, providing resources and assistance to soldiers transitioning back from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as advocating for better services for veterans and their families.

It’s a good thing someone is looking out for these men and women. By the time they are in their early 20s, many of the soldiers have served multiple deployments, fighting in wars that began when some were still children. "We've got your back."

While the lives of many Americans remain untouched by the wars, the nearly two million soldiers who have served so far bring their experiences home to their wives and husbands, children and parents, friends and co-workers. More than 5,700 American soldiers have been killed and over 41,000 have been wounded; coalition deaths number 1,148. Civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the hundreds of thousands.

Colorful patches brightened the streets

Operation Iraqi Freedom Coalition Forces

Disabled American Veterans

Vietnam Veteran

Strangely, the discount stores that line the side streets were all hawking camouflage clothing, $20 a jacket, less for a T-shirt. So if you’d lost your uniform or just wanted to look like a soldier, you could blend right in. Sort of.


The real thing

I watched the start of the parade, then headed for the subway. Along the way, I passed several bus kiosks sporting advertisements for war video games.

Call of Duty. Yeah, right.

Much later, I walked in the park, admiring the fall colors, the hordes of dark-eyed junkos and one elegant little female downy woodpecker.  As I walked, I checked the weather in Kandahar and Kabul on my iPhone, and was surprised to find mild temperatures not much different than this year’s mild New York City autumn.  I wondered what animals might be spotted by soldiers in Afghanistan.

An exceptionally lucky birding soldier might spot the extremely rare Large-billed reed warbler, only recently discovered to reside in Afghanistan

or perhaps a steppe eagle

Soaring steppe eagle

For several months this year, Navy SEALs in Afghanistan, along with an American contractor trained in ornithology, cared for a Steppe eagle that had been shot in the wing by an Afghan soldier.  A U.S. Army veterinarian splinted the wing, and the men built a large cage on their base, and fed the bird by hand.  The eagle eventually healed, although it will never be able to fly.

With their deployment drawing to an end, the men worried that the bird would not survive their departure. “We redeploy back to the states in about 3 months,” wrote a SEAL in a letter seeking help for the bird, “and I doubt that the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for it.”

The men finally located a bird sanctuary in New York that agreed to keep the eagle. New York Senator Schumer helped to clear bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles, and in October the bird arrived at the Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary in Grafton, NY.  The Steppe eagle known as Mitch now shares living quarters with an American eagle called Eddie.

Mitch and Eddie at Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary

Nothing that lives escapes suffering in a war zone.

What Shall We Do Without Us? by Kenneth Patchen

Explore posts in the same categories: 2010, Birds, Hawks, In the City, November, Wildlife/Natural History

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14 Comments on “Veterans Day: Soldiers and Birds of Afghanistan”

  1. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    amazing story about the soldiers caring for the eagle
    you’ve humanized war

  2. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    This is a brilliant post. I love the way it naturally flows. Impressionistic at the start with its caring observations of vets and the parade’s environs, then moving onto to birds and ending with Patchen. Subtle and cumulative.

  3. […] sure how this "re-blogging" works. But clicking the photo should take you to the original post, Soldiers and Birds of Afghanistan.  You may also want to visit my other blog, The Red Animal […]

  4. Reblogged this on The Red Animal Project and commented:

    In honor of Veterans Day 2012, I’m copying a post I wrote two years ago for Veterans Day 2010.

  5. Julie Bogdanowicz Says:

    It brings to mind “he’s not heavy he’s my brother…sister”
    Peace to all that suffer pain in the name of love and the battlefield is anywhere a person is being destroyed.
    Peace in the USA – Peace in the World

  6. A beautiful sensitive post. You honored the sacrifice of Veterans while showing empathy for those least able to fend for themselves in a war zone. Beautiful.

  7. p hoey Says:

    A moving piece, segueing from the vets on Vet’s Day to the American Eagle and the Middle Eastern eagle in one cage. Peaceably in one cage. All praise to you who walk the dog!

  8. Bill Says:

    Thank you. This was an piece of writing worth remembering. Although I am opposed to war in almost every instance, I was moved by the dedication of the veterans. The connection between the soldiers and the wounded eagle was a real eye opener.

    The Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary is a wonderful organization by the way. Not to far from here.

  9. Abby Jenkins Says:

    We should celebrate and honor vets every day!

  10. Kurt Mantooth Says:

    Inspired piece.

  11. very moved by the story of the steppe eagle and your eagle-eye observations.

  12. Charlotte Says:

    Hear Hear I agree with daddyO, truly an amazing post. Love the story of the eagle so seamlessly tied in with your concerns; nice display of our finest too, good to be reminded of the lives lost and toll paid by a few. Move posts on Vets and their pets!

  13. daddy0 Says:

    You not only amaze, you astonish. Your depth, originality, poetic mind are an endless joy. I’m privileged to know you.

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