By Major Jared K Lefaivre
“At this point, I had virtually stopped sleeping. I spent the previous evening receiving a well-deserved, albeit very tactful, tongue lashing from one of our squadron’s best Captains regarding my physical absence from the unit and my obvious cognitive decline. To her point, I probably was too invested in the Afghans, and was probably spending too much time at the gates, but with the amount of death and despair occurring daily, how could one not be?
The next morning, I had queued up three families to extract from the Abbey Gate. Over the course of the deployment, I had attached myself to a PJ team to whom I had grown pretty close to. While I spent most of my time, doing straight-forward conventional rescues (right place, right time, right codeword); they had spent the previous days extracting ANA commando’s and other high value targets, through various unconventional means. In my mind, going to the Abbey Gate to grab families out of the waste canal almost seemed beneath them. It certainly wasn’t as sexy as the Tom Clancy-esque missions they had been conducting. But being the true professionals they were, they didn’t see it that way.
After securing 20 or so Afghans that make up the three families I had in my morning queue, I regrouped with rest of the team in the vehicle staging area just outside the gate to take a much-needed break. The hatch of the Land Cruiser provided our only sense of relief from the scorching Sun. I found myself wishing I was anywhere but here, and that I was drinking anything but hot water from a dirty bottle. Through all the sadness that was the reality of the Abbey Gate, I found myself chuckling at a scene unfolding in front of me could closest be described as something akin to a comedy of errors. Through the heaps of garbage, lose clothing that covered the ground, and concertina wire, I could make out a Marine navigating a rag-tag fire team towards us. I quickly realized though that he technically wasn’t a Marine per se, rather a corpsman; and that his fireteam was not a highly- trained cohesive unit, but a gaggle of kids. His efforts to maintain order and move them in an expeditious manner reminded me of watching my daughter’s pre-school teacher lead their class in a parade at school just before I left to come to Kabul a few weeks prior. Unfortunately for the Doc, he didn’t have the rope that my daughter’s teacher made the kids hold on to quell the chaos that ensues from moving young kids from point A to B.”
“What’s up, pied piper?” I quipped.
The corpsman’s focus was broken, I wasn’t sure if he got the reference, but a big grin did come across his face as his eyes widened behind his dusty black glasses.
“Just getting these unaccompanied kids out of here, Sir, I’ve been rounding them up all morning!”
Doc “Piper” soon joined us at the truck and began to shoot the proverbial shit like any other Marine/Corpsman would. I wasn’t too involved in the conversation as I try to have the self-awareness of not being “That Officer” that tries to interject himself too much into enlisted guy’s conversations - I get it, its awkward and it keeps people from acting and saying what they normally would if I wasn’t there. I do remember Doc mentioning that he was struggling to find his path after his enlistment was up. Naturally he wanted to get the inside gouge on what it took to become a PJ. The Doc was awed by the PJ’s, and though I would never admit it outwardly, who could blame him. They looked the part. They even took the time to take a few pictures.
What Doc didn’t realize was that I was awed by him. What he lacked in a plan for his future life, he more than made up for his actions in the moment. To me, he was just a kid himself, maybe, MAYBE old enough to legally drink. I recall thinking what a special human he must be to instinctually take care of these vulnerable strangers in undoubtedly their most pressing time of need. A kid leading more kids to safety. It was a beautiful moment in an otherwise dismal situation. The conversation soon dissipated, and we all scattered and went about the rest of our day. After an unsuccessful attempt of rescuing another family at the Black Gate, I opted not to return to Abbey Gate that afternoon, but rather fulfill the promise I had made to my concerned Captain the evening prior. I chose instead to head to the flight line and help crew our squadron’s logistics flight that evening to Al Udeid.
An hour after takeoff, we received an emergency message that a mass-causality event had occurred at the Abbey Gate and that we were to stand-by for follow on tasking. The aeromedical evacuation tasking never came. Higher ups opted for faster flying C-17’s, so we continued westward to Al Udeid to load up with much-needed food and water to bring back. After our return to HKIA, just as the sun was rising, I was briefed that our PJ teams acted valiantly along with the Marines and others to treat the injured in the immediate aftermath of the blast. Unfortunately, for over 100 civilians and 13 service members, to include the pied piper of Kabul, there was little that they could do.
In the almost year and a half since the Abbey Gate bombing, I have read countless posts on HM3 Max Soviak. While it is truly tragic that such a promising life could be cut so short, I do take solace in knowing that there are people that can truly make an impact in just a short amount of time on this planet. They say a warrior dies twice, once on the battlefield and again when they are forgotten.
On November 13th, 2022, I welcomed my second son Max into this world in honor of the good Doc and in hopes that his memory continues. I also hope that my Max embodies the selflessness and devotion to serve others that Doc exemplified in his life. To be compassionate and empathetic in this otherwise cynical and crude world is truly a gift. I’m glad Doc Soviak had these attributes, I only wish I could have known him longer.
I know the wounds are still fresh for a lot of people out there that were at HKIA, and some days are harder than others. Its important to remember though that what you did, made lifesaving differences to hundreds of thousands of people. Be proud of your accomplishments, the OAR veterans are a special group. Live everyday like it’s your last and, most importantly, live your life to the MAX!”