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Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership

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3 November 2023

Link to video of event –

One of the defining moments of the Afghanistan War occurred in ☝ second inside ☝ battle that raged for 7️⃣ hours.

Then 37-year-old United States Army Captain Will Swenson found himself a commander in what would become known as the Battle of Ganjgal.

An early morning meeting connecting the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley near the border of Pakistan turned into a brutal ambush of Swenson’s 100-person coalition. Surrounded by Taliban fighters unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades, mortar, and machine gun fire, repeated calls for overheard artillery support were denied for fear of civilian casualties. Denied all day, in fact, while Swenson and his coalition fended for themselves under constant artillery fire.

Rare helmet-cam footage from a medical evacuation team caught much of the extraordinary scene. Including Swenson repeatedly waving a bright orange flag 🚩 to guide a rescue helicopter into a safe landing zone to rescue the injured and retrieve the dead. Swenson waved the brightly colored flag all day, making himself a highly visible target to enemy fighters but ensuring the chopper could load the injured and dying.

At one point, we see Captain Swenson loading Sergeant Kenneth Westbrook into the chopper. Westbrook, a father of three, had been shot in the neck and was bleeding heavily. He had four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a shattered left shoulder. He would die 29 days later from these injuries. But this day, Swenson hoped he could be saved. He is seen carrying Westbrook onto the helicopter, and the GoPro camera on the med evac’s helmet captured another fleeting moment almost no one would have seen. Swenson is seen leaning into the helicopter and giving Westbrook a kiss on his cheek before the helicopter side door closes. A moment never intended to be captured on film. A moment Swenson himself hardly remembered. A moment of true leadership.

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