The last soldier to leave Afghanistan was uniquely prepared for that moment

The picture of Army Major Chris Donahue leaving Afghanistan on Monday evening will forever symbolize the end of a grueling war there that lasted almost two decades.

Donahue, with steely eyes, in a helmet and overalls and with a rifle, was photographed with night vision devices when he was the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan.

His focus, whether he was aware of the importance of the moment or not, is likely why he was nicknamed “Flatliner” early in his military career.

“I definitely think there are times when you have to get flat,” Donahue said in one interview to the The 18th Airborne Corps Podcast in May.

“Every time you do something, pretend you’ve done it before. In other words, don’t get too high, don’t get too low, ”he said. “You’ve been told to do something – just pretend it’s someone else. This ability to forget what happened and not anticipate what is coming. Concentrate on what you have to do when you are in run mode. “

Donahue’s ethos fit in with the 82nd Airborne Division, which he assumed command last year. A key principle of the department is “do not breathe heavily”.

“We don’t breathe hard in this division,” he said. “Whatever you ask of us, we can handle it. It doesn’t matter if the conditions are perfect, it doesn’t matter if the conditions are bad. Anyway, ”Donahue explained on the podcast. “We are well trained, well managed, we have complete trust in each other. Whatever comes, we can deal with it.”

“Whatever the nation needs, whatever the corps comes back to us and says they need it, we have it,” he said.

Donahue and more than 3,500 division paratroopers were dispatched from their base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Afghanistan in mid-August to maintain safety at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul when the Taliban and the people rushed there after the Taliban came to power evacuate the country.

At the height of the unrest there, 13 US military personnel and more than 110 Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing outside the airport last week before the August 31 deadline for American troops to leave Afghanistan.

“The paratroopers in this division are without a doubt an absolute national treasure,” Donahue said in May. “No other organization has the size, capacity and ability to act very quickly anywhere in the world than this department.”

“It’s an incredible honor to be in this league,” he said. “For the rest of my life, if people say, ‘What did you do with your life?’ I’ll be able to say, ‘I was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division.'”

However, Donahue was able to answer this question in many different ways.

He was 8 years old when he first felt inspired to join the military, he said on the podcast, when he saw a front page of a newspaper showing the US invasion of Grenada.

“That moment forward made me want to do this all the time,” he said.

After graduating from West Point in 1992, Donahue served as a lieutenant in the infantry division.

He now commands every rank from the company to the brigade, like that Military.com, and attended Harvard University as a Fellow of the US Army War College.

The highly decorated Donahue also worked at the Pentagon as a special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, air force General Richard Myers, where he served on September 11th. Donahue was at the Pentagon that day to provide information to Myers and other officials, such as Myers’ book “Eyes on the Horizon” and Garrett M. Graff’s “The Only Plane in the Sky.”

He was sent to Afghanistan for the first time in 2002 and has been back three more times.

His at least 17 missions also include missions in Iraq, Syria, North Africa and Eastern Europe.

It’s unclear whether Donahue knew he would be the last soldier out of the country, or whether it was planned that way. Regardless, he advocated and preached a culture that prepared him and his troops for such a moment for years.

“In this department,” he said in May, “the leaders jump first, eat last. Always.”

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