CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- “By the time I had the radio to my mouth, the whole truck exploded.”
Lance Cpl. Frank Buchanan, a native of Jacksonville, N.C., didn’t see the improvised explosive device until the last second. The 20-year-old was the lead of a four-vehicle convoy dispatched by Route Clearance Company to recover two downed vehicles in the desert of Nawa district, Helmand province. As his bomb-detecting Huskie rumbled over a sandy berm, he suddenly spotted the 80-pound IED but couldn’t stop in time.
When his father, Master Gunnery Sgt. Frank Buchanan, heard about the strike, he feared the worst.
Ironically “Master Guns,” the communications chief of Regimental Combat Team 8, had been looking forward to a visit. When he received orders to RCT-8 and learned his headquarters would be less than an hour’s flight from his son in Dwyer, he was happy.
This, however, was not the visit he’d hoped for.
The news was frightening. An IED blast blew off the rear wheels of his son’s Huskie and damaged the cabin. The only way out was through the roof, but because of neck and back trauma from the blast, Lance Cpl. Buchanan couldn’t get out by his own power. Sgt. Carlos Boquin, his squad leader, had to pull him out.
Buchanan Jr. doesn’t remember much more about the scene of the strike. He recalls boarding a medevac flight, then waking up in a hospital bed, stuck with IVs and peppered by questions from an attentive medical staff.
When his father received the news, he quickly got permission to fly to Dwyer.
“I sit here and wait on that phone call all the time, and when it came, the life just drained out of me,” said Buchanan Sr., a Marine of nearly 23 years.
For the Master Guns, parental fear is a complex emotion. It’s aggravated by the twinge of remorse that many military parents feel, for the former drill instructor missed much of his son’s childhood while serving the Corps. He missed his son’s birth while deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm -- in fact, he estimates that he’s missed all but nine years of his son’s life.
He used to be able to tell himself, ‘I’m doing this to keep my family safe,’ until an unexpected phone call three years ago. While he was “watching pirates off the coast of Somolia,” his wife explained that Buchanan Jr., who had a scholarship to become an automotive technician, decided to enlist instead.
“I was doing all the bad things so he wouldn’t have to, and now here he is,” mused Buchanan Sr.
Anxiety abounded as the Master Guns caught a late night helicopter flight to Dwyer, but by the time he arrived, his son’s situation had improved. Lance Cpl. Buchanan had been transferred to the Wounded Warrior Tent, where Marines rest after they have been deemed stable and no longer in need of urgent medical assistance.
Miraculously, Lance Cpl. Buchanan came away with nothing more than a mild concussion and neck stress. Master Guns found him resting on a green canvas cot, appearing tired but generally healthy. His neck brace, resembling a white foam collar, was the only indication that anything was wrong. He wore it when walking, but moved naturally, without any noticeable signs of pain.
“The sense of relief when the whole body was there …” said Buchanan Sr., his voice trailing off. “The sense of relief -- there was no way to tell it.”
The ensuing conversation immediately convinced the Master Guns that his son was sound in mind and body.
Lance Cpl. Buchanan recalled:
“He popped his head in [here] in the morning – asked me if I needed anything. The first thing I asked for was cigarettes. He had to jump through hoops [to get them], because they keep on running out at the [Post Exchange].”
After scrounging up smokes, Buchanan Sr. spoke to his junior Marine and firstborn son.
Who knows what was actually said. According to the Master Guns, Buchanan men aren’t much for expressing emotions. The father and son trail off when they get to close words like “love,” but according to Buchanan Jr., there was a time when they barely spoke to each other at all. He wryly recalls his father’s “drill instructor phase,” when his parents apparently functioned as a chain of command, and half seriously remarked that messages for dad had to be routed through mom.
“Now, I’m not only his son, but also his brother,” said Buchanan Jr. “There are things he can talk to me about now that I wouldn’t hear before.”
And although the Master Guns frequently worries about his son, he is rendered speechless by the swelling pride he feels when he sees a younger version of himself carrying on the Buchanan legacy.
Lance Cpl. Buchanan has made a full recovery and is now back with Route Clearance Company, supporting 2nd Combat Engineering Battalion here.
“I would rather get hit a million times than to see one of my guys get hit once,” said the Huskie driver. “You could take my left arm, and I would still want to get back in the truck.”
Lance Cpl. Buchanan is a Huskie Driver for Route Clearance Company, 2nd CEB, which supports Regimental Combat Team 1 in Southern Helmand province. His vehicle was struck by an IED July 14.
The RCT supports 2nd Marine Division (Forward), the ground combat element in Helmand. The mission of the division is to partner with Afghan National Security Forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF to assume security responsibilities in the region. Ultimately, the partnered forces promote the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.