Major turns tragedy into a story for ‘Homecoming’
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Maj. Robert Lindblom was undecided about whether to put down on paper the story of how he and members of his unit carried on after a tragic helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2003.
Lindblom, now chief of flight safety for the 48th Fighter Wing, is a freelance writer and author of several published articles and stories, but had almost decided to lay the Kandahar experience aside rather than recount it in a story, he said.
Then, at a writing workshop for a National Endowment for the Arts program called “Operation Homecoming,” an NEA representative told him the account was just right for the compilation of stories, letters and poems the agency was trying to solicit from military members and their families.
On Saturday, Lindblom was at the RAF Lakenheath Shoppette to sign copies of the fruit of that project, “Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families.”
The book — part of a larger project to inspire military members and their families to write down and share their wartime experiences — is an anthology of about 100 letters, stories, journal entries, e-mails, songs and eyewitness accounts collected from about 1,200 submissions.
In the book is Lindblom’s story, “The Day of the Dragon,” an account of what happened in Lindblom’s unit after the crash of a combat rescue helicopter in March 2003 that killed six of the author’s comrades, including his commanding officer.
Lindblom tells how he and others tried to cope with the loss, but the heart of the piece is about his struggle to step forward and accept responsibility in the 41st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, he said.
Lindblom said he shelved the idea of telling about the experience until 2004, when Operation Homecoming was hosting writing workshops at military bases around the U.S. that were headlined by bestselling authors such as Tom Clancy and Mark Bowden.
Lindblom deployed again shortly after a workshop he attended at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and drafted the piece downrange, which he said was cathartic.
“It was difficult at first, but once it started flowing it came pretty quickly,” he said.
Lindblom’s story was cut to less than half its original length for the book, but the author said he’s relatively happy with it, and it’s still one of the longer pieces in “Operation Homecoming.”
These days, Lindblom is seeing the ripple effects of being published in a major book release, including appearing in a short film made about the project — where he met actor Kevin Costner — and attending book signings like the one at Lakenheath.
He said, it was rewarding to be part of something that conveys what the war on terror is like for those who fight it. “It’s very humbling,” he said.