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By Angie West
As I sit here in my comfy chair, sipping coffee and finishing the book Blackdeath 23, I am more thankful than ever to be an American.
Blackdeath 23 is a book written by Poplar Bluff High School graduate of the class of 1991, Rob Mills. The book chronicles his daily life in the United States Cavalry as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 as an Army helicopter pilot during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a young boy, Rob would draw helicopters and dream that someday he would be able to fly them. But as he grew up, jobs, marriage, kids and their associated responsibilities became the order of the day. However, as months turned into years, Rob felt like he wasn’t fulfilling his life’s purpose.
After a casual conversation with his brother Rod, an Army Chaplain, about his inner conflict, his brother suggested a program offered by the Army called High School to Flight School. After researching the program, talking to his wife and a lot of praying, his boyhood dream was taking shape.
After testing, physical exams, and reams of paperwork, he left Poplar Bluff one morning at 0300 hours for St. Louis to sign the final document which would officially make him a member of the United States Army.
As he had arrived early, he sat in the office waiting for his name to be called. After a couple of hours he asked if he could turn on the television. Permission was granted.
What was on the screen was unimaginable; smoke spiraling from the Twin Towers in New York City. A short time later, an evacuation order was issued for everyone to clear the building, yet the lady doing his processing orders refused to leave until the paperwork was in order.
September 11, 2001, was the day Rob officially became Army, but it was the training over the next 18 months that made him a soldier.
Finally, the months of training were over and gave way to the hardest part; saying goodbye to family before deployment.
All of the “I may never again” thoughts raced through his head making the reality of his decision descend on him with the weight of the world: I may never again hold my wife close; hug my little girls; throw a fishing line with my dad; or have a cup of coffee with my mom.
It was then that he was thankful for his faith in God to protect him and be with him throughout the difficult days ahead. It was at this time that the mental training the military had given made him confident he would be able to focus on the mission.
Tent City, the processing center, was just as it sounds; a small city of endless rows of tents to house the soldiers. The city was surrounded by a four-foot wall of sandbags, concrete bunkers and razor wire perimeter.
Within 30 minutes of arrival, rockets began screaming overhead and the ground shook: Rob was in a war zone and on the other side of the globe from his home in Missouri.
One rocket rammed into an air conditioning unit. The unit careened through the air and landed on a nearby soldier, taking out a large chunk of his leg. The question “am I gonna live through this?” scrolled through his mind.
That night, Rob retired to his cot in his flack vest and helmet trying to process events of the night…not a wink of sleep to be had.
The title of the book is Rob’s call sign. Blackdeath signifies the name of his troop; two (2) the platoon number, and three (3) signifies he was third pilot. All air communications during his tour used this call sign.
The book is a log of the day-to-day happenings of a soldier and allows the reader to peer into life and feelings of a man who must focus on his mission while missing his family and must be engaged in war while worrying about the challenges his wife must face as a single parent with two little girls.
He deals candidly with how distractions could be penalized with death to himself and his brothers. He walks the reader through the disappointment of being only two days away from returning home only to be called back to battle.
It details his close calls and the positives of his journey.
Thomas Jefferson poignantly stated, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Rob says his military time made him realize what’s really important in life. He focuses on people and not material goods, tries to do the right thing, and appreciate the now.
Besides, he says, this life is just an interview for eternity.
Rob will be signing his book, Blackdeath 23, at Hastings in Poplar Bluff this Saturday Nov. 15, from 3–5 p.m. SEMO TIMES encourages you to come out, buy his book and thank him for his service.Share: