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SOFTBALL: Jessica Mendoza Blog from Afghanistan: An Emotional Day

Jan. 11, 2008, 1 a.m. (ET)

Today was a day of highs and lows. The high was riding in a blackhawk helicopter. This was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced. First of all, just to ride in it, you have to get "rucked up" in ammo vests and helmets. Then to stand next to one is a very powerful experience. They are so loud and different from any other piece of flying equipment I have ever seen. But once you are in, and feel like you are strapped in well enough to go on a serious roller coaster, the copter takes off and you feel absolutely powerless to the movements and control of your own body. They can move so fast, and turn on a dime, sending your stomach flying in the direction you just left. Needless to say, it is absolutely amazing. They also do not get very far off the ground, so our views of eastern Afghanistan were the best we could have ever imagined. We got to soar right above the mud huts that are the locals homes and villages. We were able to see wild camels and other animals. We soared through snow-packed mountains that were so white you wanted to just dip your hand down and grab a big bunch of it. There were also beautiful rivers and cliffs ... I truly had no idea how beautiful this land really is. I felt I learned more about the terrain and lifestyle of the Afghani people then I ever could have in stories or books. All of their structures are made of mud and it is unbelievable how they stay warm and survive so far from anyone or anything else. It was also really cool to see the looks of my travelmates (and other Olympians faces) as we flew through the air over this beautiful country. Shawn was going crazy and talking into his video camera, making a crazy little home video, while the rest of us (Shannon, Angela and Mike) just sat there taking it all in. When we would make a crazy turn or drop, we would grab each other for dear life and then smile when we knew it was alright. As for the low, after we returned to Bagram, we visited a hospital. I don't think I have ever walked through a room so fast as I did the ICU. Most of the patients in there were local Afghani's and I do not want to get into details, but I have never seen or imagined injuries like these in my life. It is amazing what our nurses or doctors our during not only for our own troops, but for the locals as well. We then visited two local Afghani children. The first was a small boy that had been hit with a land mine. He had one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. As soon as we walked in he promptly sat up, shook our hands, and gave us this big toothless grin that just melted my heart. When I got closer to him to say hi, he put his arm around me like we were long-time friends reuniting. The next was a young girl who had fell into a fire and was burned on her lower body. She was so beautiful and eager to meet us and instantly memorize our names. Throughout the rest of our tour through the hospital, I kept sneaking back to her room to test her on her memorization. We would both laugh as she said, "Jess-i-ca." The I would give her a high five and would communicate through this small interaction of exchanging names and smiles. A moment that brought all of us to tears was when we visited a US soldier. After we signed some stuff and took a photo with him, he began to cry and said, "I did this for you ...we are all here for you." It was all I needed to let out the emotions of the day, of this whole trip. I just can not even tell you how much the words bravery, heart and sacrifice have been re-defined here for me. Only a few more days left, but I am sure there is much more to come ... Love you all, Jess