“I Thought For Sure I Was Gonna Die!” United States Army Brigadier-General John D. Kline

That harrowing sentiment from one of the more intense combat mission experiences recalled by United States Army pilot, then-Major (now Brigadier-General) John D. Kline, as he fought to safely land his Black Hawk helicopter on a mission in Iraq back in 2005.  No time or place for a rookie pilot, fortunately Major Kline was far from it, a highly-skilled veteran aviator and unit leader.  And, also fortunately, characteristic for that time in the Iraq War, no one was shooting at him!  Ground fire, there, hadn’t yet become a real and persistent issue. So why did he think this flight might be his last?

Because he now found himself flying in a desert condition, known as a brown-out, blowing, thick dust everywhere, and with it, darkness, effectively blinding his approach.  ‘We were coming in and actually hovered for awhile in the soup, as that major dust storm was really building up.”  While underway, most combat helicopter accidents, and related deaths, said Kline, were the result of either pilot error, treacherous mountain terrain (Afghanistan), and/or brown-outs, just like the one he was then battling.

Beyond concern for his own safety and that of his crew, he was transporting eleven Army Infantry Pathfinders to the site of a planned raid, hence worrying about them as well.  All the while not knowing for sure where he was, or what he was about to land on!  Cautiously, he descended through that dark, swirling cocoon of thick dust.  “The brown-out was so bad, and the field we just happened to land on, was plowed so deep, I thought the aircraft was gonna roll.  We had actually slammed down onto the ground, planting that Black Hawk so hard, the googles snapped off my helmet!” Kline vividly remembered.

Thankfully, the helicopter did not roll, nor was it damaged.  Most important of all, there were no injuries to anyone on board. The thick dust began to clear, and with it, the soldiers he carried were able to conduct their raid and complete the mission.  Looking back on that close call, Kline remembered he’d had “some pretty sporty landings out there!” On this one, he remembered thinking to himself, if not out-loud:  “Thank God!”

Although he would go on to accumulate nearly 400 combat missions in the air, it was tense moments like that one, recalled Kline, that made him the most concerned while piloting in a war zone.  “Most of the time that I was the most nervous, was not so much concern about getting shot.  It was the actual flying portion. I almost had a mid-air in Iraq.”

In that instance, at night, Kline and another unit ship, were both lifting-off from different operational LZ’s (landing zones).  Dark as it was, he was coming out of a big dust cloud, adding to the tension.  “And the moment I did, I saw (the other aircraft’s) left position-light right in front of me.  It seemed like our blades where within a foot of each other. That could’ve been a really bad mid-air.”  Kline immediately radioed the other helicopter, being flown by a pilot he knew, and said, “Was that you? Holy cow”!!  Upon recent inquiry, the Colonel did admit that “cow” was likely not the exact word he used to describe that far-too-close brush with severe injury, more likely, death!

Colonel John Kline was born in Orange County, California in 1970.  With his dad, a 25-year Marine Corps officer (and former long-time U.S. Congressman from Minnesota), Kline experienced the “military brat” lifestyle, living “all over” growing up.  Not only was his dad military, but his step-mom, too, serving 20-years as an Army nurse-officer. And his two Grandfathers distinguished themselves in the military, as well.  One as a WW II (Normandy) Army First-Lieutenant, the other, a Navy pilot in WW II, retiring as a LCDR after, among other assignments, commanding the airfield at Corpus Christi, TX.  Given that impressive lineage of service, the response to his choice of a military career might be expected: “It’s what I knew as a boy growing up in a military family.  Like father, like son.”

Kline earned his undergraduate degree at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania (“small, close-knit school. I loved it.”), and was commissioned a Second-Lieutenant in Army Field Artillery.  Following the F.A. Officer Basic Course, his first assignment was with the 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, CO.  Three-years later, he transitioned from artillery to Army aviation, completing the rotary-wing qualification course (UH-60) at Fort Rucker, AL.  With follow-on assignments, principally in Germany and at Fort Campbell, KY, Kline rose to command assignments, before, during, and following his combat deployments.  In Iraq, he was the Executive Officer for the 5th battalion of the 101st CAB.  During his two Afghanistan tours, he served, first, as Deputy Brigade Commander (101st CAB), and later as the Commander of Task Force Eagle Assault (5-101st CAB).

Colonel Kline graduated from the Army’s Command & General Staff College (Fort Leavenworth, KS), and, in addition, has earned two Master’s Degrees (Central Michigan University/Administration) and (Air War College/Strategic Studies).  He has been awarded, among other distinctions:  2 Legions of Merit, 4 Bronze Star Medals, 4 Air Medals, 3 Meritorious Service Medals, 4 Army Commendation Medals, plus earning the Air Assault, Combat Action, Master Army Aviator, and Parachutist Badges.

Colonel Kline is married with two children.  He served as Brigade Commander, 3rd Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA, from 2013–2015.  He deployed for his fourth combat tour in October, 2015.

Operation Swarmer, Iraq 2006. Major John Kline (4th from right/back row), Executive Officer, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, during brief shut down, a group photo with other crews, then the mission continued.

John Kline vividly remembers his 2005-2006 OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM experience, deployed with the 101st Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), as a time when he viewed Iraq as “the wild west, except that we didn’t have to worry about getting shot at a lot.”  His first huge, combined mission there, was named OPERATION SWARMER, with Black Hawk and Chinook air assaults under that banner carried out continuously for eight-days straight.  Huge because it needed to be, since they were stationed along with the entire Division at COB (Combat Operating Base) Speicher, near Tikrit in the north, with the 101st CAB supporting 101st Airborne soldiers on the ground. They had been given the task of clearing out, both insurgents and weapons, across a hefty amount of open desert terrain, stretching from Baghdad all the way up to Kirkuk.

To help better position this time-frame in the mind of the reader, amidst the hectic, on-going operational tempo in Iraq, OPERATION SWARMER occurred at about the same time that the Sunni uprising was taking place, and the Golden Mosque was blown up.  “I flew over the Mosque site the next day, as I always did, looking for it as a landmark, since you couldn’t miss it.  Only now, it was completely gone!”  As stated, with that deadly internal Sunni-Shia conflict well underway, likely directly-connected with large-scale civil unrest, Kline remembers that “while flying around, there were times when we spotted decapitated heads in the desert, and beds of pick-up trucks covered in blood.  Given the location, we were pretty sure that blood wasn’t from slaughtering sheep!”

Iraq, 2006, COB Speicher near Tikrit. Major John Kline and his crew following a mission.

With SWARMER’s initial sweep goals completed, next in Kline’s Iraq battlefield memory came OPERATION EAGLE WATCH, an on-going mission, lasting about eight-months, developed and designed to take advantage of the complacency that had developed, among  insurgents, regarding unaccompanied, apparently-routine, Black Hawk flights.

“The enemy saw two aircraft taking off, perhaps, ten, twenty times a day from these operating bases, and, with them, we were generally doing “battlefield circulation,” just flying people around. But anytime we started to go up with a couple of Apaches, the militants knew we were probably coming to a village near them, preparing to land, with guys in the back who were going to get out and start kicking in doors and those sorts of things,” said Kline.

So to help disguise intent, EAGLE WATCH employed a different tactic, sending out just two Black Hawks, alone, giving the appearance of simply flying another transport mission.  In actuality, each two-Black-Hawk-flight in this operation carried a total of twenty light-infantrymen, a medic and an interpreter.  No question, these flights, unaccompanied, required an extra dose of courage from pilot and crew, but, again, at this point in the Iraqi conflict, ground fire was less of a concern.  It wouldn’t always be so, but in the earlier stages of OIF, thankfully, it was.  This new tactic of swooping in with just the two Black Hawks landing near villages, off-loading infantry, and grabbing suspects of interest to gain hoped-for intelligence, “took off like wild-fire,” recalls Kline.

One prime example. EAGLE WATCH flight crews were supporting a battalion up North, southwest of Kirkuk.  The ground guys were looking for a militant nicknamed ‘Turkey,’ whom Kline recalls was described as “a mid-level thug, who made and planted IED’s.” But every time our infantry soldiers went to get this ‘Turkey’ guy, it was a “dry hole.”  They couldn’t find him.  And so Kline’s team met with our infantry leaders at the FOB (Forward Operating Base) and told them what he felt they could do to help.  “You tell us what’s going on in your neighborhood.  We’ve got two Black Hawks and twenty-two ‘shooters’ (Pathfinders) of our own.”   The first place the infantry commanders wanted Kline to look, was a certain village, in a certain suspected house, leads that were given with a frustrated, wits-end look, as if to say, ‘Hey, you’ll never find this guy.’

Kline told them he’d give it a shot.  He took off, and located the village, just about a three-minute flight from the FOB.  “While we probably just looked like two Black Hawks flying to Kirkuk, we suddenly banked, landed in this guy’s backyard, and all of our pathfinders came off with their weapons.”  Quickly, over the sound of the rotor blades, the interpreter yelled, in Arabic, to the first guy to appear in the doorway: ‘Where’s ‘Turkey’ ‘?  Without hesitating, the man answered that he was right there inside the house!!

“Two or three minutes later,” said Kline, “our soldiers emerged with a guy blindfolded, his hands zip-tied, the normal way captives were then prepared for transport.”  In no time, they’d gotten the much sought-after ‘Turkey.’  “So we scooped him up, took off, and flew back to the Forward Operating Base. Total time we were gone was, I think, probably 15-to-20 minutes, and we said to the infantry battalion staff back at their TOC (tactical operations center), who predicted he’d never find him: “Here’s ‘Turkey,’ ” recalls Kline with justifiable satisfaction, given the infantry’s prior negative prediction!  To which the battalion operations officer replied, ‘Holy (Bad Word)!’  This terrific success proved the definite worth of the aerial tactic, conceived by Lieutenant-Colonel Don Galli and then-Major John Kline.  It also proved that it’s possible, out in the wild, for a Black Hawk to uncover and serve-up a Turkey!

And that tactic remained very successful, whenever needed, with succeeding EAGLE WATCH missions. Two solo Black Hawks, a combined twenty-two infantry guys in the back, with the task of going from village to village throughout that very large territory, and with surprise landings, removing anti-government fighters from them, preferably alive, as information sources.  At the campaign’s end, there were more than 100 air/ground missions under the over-all OPERATION EAGLE WATCH banner, making it a huge, lengthy, and effective air-assault campaign.

Along with intelligence gathering and rounding up any bad guys found, early air-assisted efforts in Iraq were, perhaps, primarily aimed at stopping the insertion of those destructive and deadly IED’s, and especially preventing their detonation.  At that time, our military was actually using civilian contractors, flying thermal-camera-equipped, real-time-video-gathering, Cessna aircraft to ‘scan’ the ground environment, with sightings of interest relayed verbally to the assault helicopters (the capability for direct video to aircraft cockpits would come later).  Those small planes were able to fly up high and virtually in silence (compared with the helicopters), to avid tipping off village observers.  “When we fly low, we’re flying fast, we’re flying helicopters, so we’re loud, we’re in your face kind of thing,” said Kline.  Teaming up with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind air-scan aircraft brought our assault pilots closer to an almost stealth-like advantage, allowing for a faster approach, putting troops on the ground, more quickly, effectively cutting down insurgent reaction time.

Within a couple of weeks, Kline remembers getting a call from overhead that they’d observed a guy with a video camera, outside a village, planting IED’s along a road the military traveled.  When finished, he then hurried into an open field, dressed like, and hiding among, the typical sheep-herders, except, recalls Kline, strangely, the suspect was wearing brightly-colored tennis shoes!  Kline’s Black Hawk came in, and the infantry Pathfinders went to work.  Searching through the herders, they found the guy with the unusual shoes, patted him down, found the detonator on him for those IED’s, and, with his video camera, carted him off, preventing the planned blast and, also, the likely video of the destruction he’d hoped to create.  After that take-down, an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) team was called in, shutting the road down, while they safely detonated the IED’s.

That task of trying to stop crippling IED explosions would continue, indefinitely, became the next assignment for Kline’s team, zeroing in on a main U.S. military supply route (MSR Tampa) heading up northwest of Tikrit.  Infantry units from the 101st Airborne Division were routinely having to deal with IED’s along that route, and other transit points, at the rate of ten or more positioned and/or detonated daily!  Naturally, commanders wanted it stopped.

What they thought might be happening was, throughout part of the terrain, a series of ‘wadies’ (big ditches or ravines) ran alongside the road.  They felt the insurgents must be planting their bombs, then backing off to the wadi to hide, while watching for traffic, then blowing-up their desired target.  The infantry felt that adding an air-assault component to the effort would make it more effective. An infantry combat logistic patrol was planning to head up that road, so the timing for the combined mission seemed right.

The operational planners at FOB Summeral said to Kline:  “Here’s what we’d like to do.  We’ve got air-scan flying at about ten-thousand-feet, and they’re going to be watching us (i.e., that combat logistic patrol) as they drive.  And we’d like to have you and your two Black Hawks off-set about seven miles, with your Pathfinders on-board, and just hold out there in orbit.”  As the ambush scenario elements meshed, at least in theory, Kline wasn’t certain all the pieces would actuality come together as envisioned, but he was eager “to give it a shot,” as they worked to synchronize the timing of all the land and air components.

He remembers the operational conditions being far from ideal. “It was the middle of the night, with no illumination, super dark out, and very dusty.”  Regardless, he set out for the rendezvous location, and was in orbit there for about five-minutes, when he and his crew saw a huge flash on the horizon. It was quickly confirmed that the patrol had, indeed, just hit an IED on that road.  Information was relayed to the air-scan pilots overhead, who replied that their thermal camera was showing a “hot spot.”  They noted three individuals hiding, as suspected, in a wadi.

Kline’s aircraft moved in toward the given coordinate, but due to the darkness, they were unable to spot the insurgents.  Then air-scan radioed that the suspects were running, and at that point, were actually just about below his helicopter.  Almost immediately, his crew chief yelled that he’d spotted them.  Kline landed his Black Hawk, and several Pathfinders, chasing after the three, tackled them, catching them red-handed with a detonator.  Now in custody, they were blindfolded, wrists bound, and taken along for questioning.

In the dead of night, shooting the running insurgents wasn’t an option, said Kline, since at that point their identity was unknown (e.g., could have been kids), and they weren’t shooting at our soldiers (unarmed when taken down). Remembering that, as always, the primary goal of such captures was to interrogate to gain human intelligence.  “And several success stories were like that one” recalled Kline, “catching trigger guys, but most always catching kinda small-scale dudes.  No big financiers, no really big high-value targets, just a lot of guys, but regardless, we were using a fairly dynamic technique to get them.”

Additionally, control measures were increased, such as a 10 PM curfew, along with “SNAP TCP’s” (traffic control points), interdicting any vehicle that moved on those roads thereafter.  “It became a real cat and mouse game.  One that we weren’t yet winning,” remembers Kline.

Another of those EAGLE WATCH missions that still stood out so clearly in his mind, was the one where word had been received about the suspected location of a high-value target, a head suicide-bomb trainer, thought to be an older Iraqi gentleman who had some kind of a leg problem, likely walked with a limp. Kline and his colleagues went looking.

There were two Iraqi villages, about 800-meters apart, thought to be in-play.  The two Black Hawks on the mission landed, one near each village, and sent their on-board troops in among the homes and residents to look for the suspected bomb trainer.  But after a preliminary search, they came up empty.  With the approach of the aircraft and the appearance of soldiers on the ground, some suspicious-looking activity, from a few of the presumed inhabitants was, however, taking place.  “We’re now flying off-set,” recalls Kline, “and we looked down at the village that’s right below us, and we spot a gentleman in a ‘black man-dress,’ with a  cane, exiting a mud hut about a kilometer away.”

Wondering if that’s their bomb-trainer suspect, Kline contacts his Pathfinder troops on the ground, letting them know he wants to pick them up and reposition them.  As his soldiers began coming back out of the houses, so did two “local” guys who made their way to a truck and begin driving away.  “The typical standard (for insurgents) was to put their hazard lights on, drive 5-miles-an-hour, that way they’ll (i.e., the Americans) think it’s not us!” (vs. a more normal high speed get-away attempt).

Then Kline observed the old guy with the cane beginning to walk south, while that slow-moving, two-person vehicle headed north.  Soon, yet another guy, this one in a “green man-dress,” came out of a hut and started heading east, all departures happening at about the same time, obviously determined to divide rather than be conquered.  Kline concluded that these movements were beyond suspicious.  Coordinating with the other Black Hawk, both aircraft landed, picked-up their respective Pathfinders, and lifted off again to observe the movement of the departing suspects.

One of the infantry teams was told to go after the truck, on foot, with weapons out.  Convinced the guy with the limp was their primary target, Kline determined that he and his flight crew, alone, would go after him.  “So we’re flying in his direction, a really skinny guy, who’s now running (with cane!), but we lose sight of him briefly, then we see him again.  He’s at the bottom of a gorge.  He sees us come in and land.  I told crew chief, Specialist Decanio, to go get him. As he does, the suspected trainer with a limp, throws away his cane, and suddenly becomes Carl Lewis!” Apparently, a miracle cure!

It’s obvious, very quickly, that the suspect is going to out-run Kline’s crew chief.  So he lifts off, flies forward down this large gorge, and lands again, this time in front of the suspect.  Kline then tells his other crew member, “there he is, go get him!”  About the time the second soldier closed-in on the fleet-footed guy with the “limp,” Specialist Decanio, still running, catches up and tackles him.  “We tape him up, with duct tape, that’s all we had (!), threw him in the aircraft, the crew gets back on-board.  So now we’ve got one of them.”

The task, then, was to go get the other guy, the one in the green ‘man-dress.’  So Kline took off again, flying across the plateau and over the wadies, when they spotted the guy, down in one of them.  Kline lands near-by, and again dispatches his crew chief to capture the green ‘man-dress’ wearer, this time heading from the aircraft with weapon in hand, just in case.  He exits the aircraft, but in so doing, the magazine had fallen out of his weapon!  Amidst the adrenalin rush, intent on the capture, he didn’t realize it.  Unaware of his potential vulnerability, the crew chief, nonetheless, captures the guy, pats him down, gets him into the aircraft, and duct-tapes him.  Then the crew chief, again, hooks up to the on-board communications system to report.  Now that he’s back safely, Kline tells him, with a certain amusement:  “Decanio, you did a great job!  Now, go back out and get your magazine.  It’s sitting in front of the aircraft.  You didn’t have any bullets in your weapon!”  A humorous situation, rare in combat, but only became chuckle-inducing after the fact, with the crew member unharmed.

Kline flew back to the village, delivering the two captives to the Pathfinders, as the team there had successfully stopped that vehicle trying to discretely get away.  Weapons and IED making materials were, in fact, in that truck, as with so many others stopped by our troops.  So with all four captives (the two walking away and the two in the truck) now blind-folded (“bagged”) and wrists tied, they were led back to the village.  And that’s when things took a turn.  As the insurgents appeared, women came out of the houses and began to wail.  It would, very soon, get worse.  Much worse.

One of the two truck riders in custody, a very heavy-set gentleman, suddenly became ill, extremely ill.  It was quickly apparent he was having a heart attack.  Our guys on the ground did what they could to try to revive him, but within minutes, he was dead. This set off even more wailing from the women, as more villagers began to spill out of their houses and gather around our Pathfinder team, the three remaining captives, and the newly-deceased.

The team leader in the village radioed Kline to advise him of the situation, triggered by the, now, unexpectedly-dead suspect. Determining the scene there was deteriorating, after checking for instruction from higher command, and receiving same, including, specifically, disposition of the deceased enemy insurgent, Kline ordered his troops to re-board his aircraft, with orders to bring along only the three living captives, and all the materials collected, for transport back to base.  Once back on the ground, with prisoners transferred for interrogation, Kline inquired, once more, about the decision to leave the dead man back in the village, an instruction that had been either made or relayed, he recalls, by a junior officer.  At that point, Major Kline got a valuable tip from his battalion commander, should the deceased-captive scenario ever occur again:  “Next time you have a guy die out there, bring him back, too. We can leverage that a bit.”  Reason being, the religion of those enemy fighters (and all others of that faith, of course) requires them to be buried within twenty-four hours after death, meaning the deceased could be used by our team to “barter” with the family, trading the body for information that would hopefully be useful to America’s air/ground efforts.

Overall, throughout his deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission-role executed repeatedly by Kline and his sister Black Hawk crews, could be summed up as follows:  “Our piece was mostly putting guys in, taking them out, putting them up on mountain tops, taking them out.”  Would he then stick around, orbiting in place?  “Yep, for a little while we would, should there be a need for immediate extraction or casualty evacuation.  If someone gets hurt, I can pull them out of there, but, usually again, we’d fly off-set for just a little while, and we’d then leave our Apaches on-station to continue the fight.”

Kline well-remembers that this was the time in Iraq when ground-based threats to aircraft were minimal.  Early-on in Allied military involvement, the Iraqi militants concentrated their offensive efforts, as previously described, mostly on planting and detonating IED’s (unseen they hoped), those traumatic explosive devices that caused such destruction to America’s fighting force, in lives, limbs, and equipment. Another preferred weapon in the militant arsenal was the use of suicide bombers, individuals or vehicles, who chose, or were coerced into blowing themselves up around allied military bases or members.

Afghanistan, he quickly learned, was a totally different story, thinking back to his three Middle East deployments, the latter two to Afghanistan, following that first one to Iraq. The Iraqi militants were more “cowardly,” said Kline, while the Taliban in Afghanistan would openly “fight back;” they were “ruthless.”

“When we got to Afghanistan, that’s when the shooting (at our helicopters) started and it became really dangerous,” he said.  “When I was a brigade XO (executive officer), with the 101st CAB  (OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM / 2008), while I don’t remember the exact numbers, at that point, we were approaching a hundred aircraft shot-down, shot up, or forced to deviate their mission, due to being engaged.”

As one example of the battlefield severity he and other aviators now faced, Kline clearly remembers two incidents involving Chinooks in flight.  With the first one, an RPG had hit the rotor blade, while flying in mountainous terrain, forcing an emergency landing, coming down directly on a rural mud hut!  In the second incident, ground fire made eighteen entry/exit holes along the aircraft, with a full load of soldiers in the back.  Somehow, that Chinook wasn’t shot down, making it safely back to base.  And here’s the amazing, make that miraculous, part.  Despite being shot-down and shot-up, there were no injuries on either aircraft!

And then there was his own experience piloting a Black Hawk, when, shortly after lifting off, an enemy mortar round struck and exploded at a spot right beneath his aircraft, the exact troop pick-up point from which they had just exited. The happenstance of timing had saved lives.  While military pilot expertise is a critical component in combat, there’s an old saying with which Kline would no doubt agree:  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!

Clearly, this was a totally different environment from the one he had faced and flown through during OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, two years earlier.  As brigade XO, a “re-education” briefing for his pilots, who had previously served in Iraq, was definitely in order.  “Afghanistan is NOT Iraq!  That’s the first thing we’d tell them,” Kline said.  “The Taliban are not Al-Qaeda or any other insurgent groups you faced there.  It’s a totally different fight.”

As mentioned earlier, Kline vividly remembered that the Taliban would fight back.  “No longer those Iraqi fighters who’d take pot shots, or snipe at you, and then run away kind of thing.” In Afghanistan, if flying near a Taliban-controlled village, they’ll move to positions where they can get down and put a heavy volume of fire on you.  And they’d just harass some of our FOB’s (forward operating base) every single day, like clock-work, lobbing off mortars, along with gun fire.”

Afghanistan 2010. LTC John Kline, with his Black Hawk, prepares for a mission.

He remembers that his particular FOB at the time, “Wolverine,” had more indirect fire (i.e., mortar rounds) hitting it than any other of our forward-operating installations.  How best then to counter the danger?  “We started putting up all these concrete barriers everywhere.  We began flying a lot of local patrols.  And we started doing a lot of ground patrols with our Pathfinders.”  Kline’s description of the reoccurring daily and potentially deadly pounding they faced, made it all seem somewhat like the repetition portrayed in the movie, “Groundhog Day,” only with people and equipment being targeted and shot at, abruptly ending any Hollywood similarity!

“We knew exactly which village the Taliban fighters were in” he said. “We’d occupy it one day, and Taliban, the next six!  And the village elders would tell our soldiers:  ‘We have no guns. When you come to our town, we do what you tell us.  And then we do what the Taliban tells us, too. And they’re here more than you are!’“  The frustration for our soldiers there was that we simply didn’t have enough troops to take and hold all of those villages, leaving the Taliban free to come back in, a frustrating process of swapping control, time and time again, and always at a cost to our military in casualties.

It had become quite obvious, that when the Taliban wanted to move around, to set explosives or establish shooting positions, their preferred transportation of choice was the motorcycle. They were everywhere, outside and within the villages.  And it had long been determined that anytime two young men were spotted on a motorcycle, no question, they were Taliban.

So the counter-measure became interdicting as many of the two-wheelers as possible.  “We started taking them out. We couldn’t shoot them (rules of engagement did not yet permit), so we’d stop them,” said Kline. “We’d put ten 30-mm explosive rounds in front of them from an Apache, to get them to either ditch the motorcycle or stop and put their hands up. Then land next to them, in a Black Hawk with Pathfinders, to see what’s going on.”

All too often, of course, the soldiers would find blasting caps and all kinds of IED-making materials in those saddlebags.  Sometimes, the motorcyclists wouldn’t stop, despite the rather clear attention-getting threat that a hovering Apache can provide.   “They’d go right around the shooting, ditch the motorcycle, and run into a mosque, because they had a safe-haven there.”  In those instances, the Pathfinder infantrymen would examine the abandoned motorcycle, gather up any bomb-making materials found for later analysis, then destroy the cycle, and head back to base.

After those continuing efforts to cut down Taliban motorcycle traffic, the next set of missions for Kline and his group involved trafficking of a different kind. They were tasked to do vehicle interdiction out in Afghanistan’s Red Desert region (area south of Kandahar extending to the Pakistan border).  Called the Red Desert because the heavier-grained sand is actually red.  The problem there called for stopping and inspecting Pakistani vehicles, in particular, when it became known that Taliban personnel were carrying on an active, high-volume barter exchange, trading weapons and equipment (destined for the Taliban) in exchange for Afghan opium.

So Taliban members were constantly traveling the main road between the Red Desert and the Pakistan border.  There was also active trafficking between the two entities in gem stones, especially up in Afghanistan’s Northern Provinces, since that region had heavy deposits of emeralds, sapphires, and other mined jewels, again an attractive trading commodity for obtaining Pakistani-supplied weaponry, motorcycles, etc.  Those illicit commerce chains, both opium and gems, needed to be broken, especially so on the Taliban end, to cut down on their access to fresh supplies, arms and otherwise.

Kline’s group focus would be in that southern, Red Desert region, where the opium trade was the strongest.  “So we started finding their clandestine labs and destroying them”, he said.  But by then, U.S. forces couldn’t do those operations unilaterally, since that territory was assigned to the British, meaning that our aircraft worked cooperatively with their SAS (Special Air Services) commandos and other elite Brit units, very much like the “Eagle Watch” operations in Iraq.

The key difference was that the operational techniques had, by now, moved well away from the former Black Hawk-Air Scan combination, replaced by far greater sophistication in just about three-years’ time.  “The Brits now had the capability to see what other aircraft sensors could observe through their leader’s monocle (a part of his glasses),”recalled Kline, “so that he could actually see, real time, the full-motion video that was being transmitted from either a manned or unmanned system.”  Kline’s team then listened to satellite communication, as an aircraft orbiting overhead picked-up ‘ground moving target indicators’ (GMTI), meaning anything metal that was moving down there: cars, trucks, motorcycles, whatever.”

What followed were continually updated grid locations, including direction, and even the speed at which the vehicle was traveling.  Kline continued to detail the process: “So, identified first as moving metal, that information was picked-up by our crew in flight, as we finalized our plans to interdict the enemy suspect’s route.”  The formula: Land near the road, dispatch the Brit team, apprehend the vehicle, then collect evidence and prisoners.  That tactic proved very successful for awhile, until the insurgents figured out what was going on.  Recalls Kline:  “It’s good that we started landing a little bit farther from these vehicles we stopped, because I remember we had one detonate.  The guys all ran out of the vehicle and they blew it up.  And we said, yeah, it’s not a good idea to be landing the aircraft anywhere close!”

If the Taliban bailed, as they did in this case, the British SAS troops would try to run the enemy down on foot.  Often, depending on the number of insurgents, that would take some time.  Meantime, Kline’s Black Hawk would temporarily continue to orbit down low, until fuel became an issue, since they were then way out in the desert with no access to a refueling source. So he would land and pull one engine back to idle to conserve.  “You didn’t want to shut down an engine out there, because if you couldn’t crank it again, you could be stuck.  And sometimes, on missions like this one,” he remembered, “we were fairly close to Iran.”

If the Brits were taking an unusually long time to complete their objective, both capturing bad guys and removing any bomb-making materials from the vehicle, Kline would need to radio them to wrap up their work as soon as possible, when his fuel-state was approaching critical.  The elite troops would then return, most often radioing their higher-command for permission to “Blaze the Charlie” (i.e., enemy vehicle) before lifting off.  It usually was.  Wrapping it in detonating cord, they would blow-up the vehicle, re-board the Black Hawk, and take off, concluding the mission.  Failing an ability to detonate from the ground, Kline remembers that the vehicle could, instead, be blown back to metal fragments by the compelling 30-mm fire from Apaches in the vicinity!

Unlike earlier days in Iraq, a typical mission-set in Afghanistan would now be two Black Hawks and two Apaches, or depending on the ground component needed, it might be an added Chinook, two Black Hawks and two Apaches.  And also unlike an earlier time in Iraq, large open desert missions had given way to much smaller, more concentrated ones.  In this new scenario, with far more hostile and aggressive Taliban fighters, American aviators were forced to operate, in and around, what he termed “crazy terrain.”

Kline recalled what a typical mission might look like in the northern regions of Afghanistan:  “Let’s say you have a village that’s got about twenty mud huts in it,” recalls Kline.  “And the village is typically located at the very bottom of a deep valley, with gigantic mountains and big foot-hills all around it. Generally, the Black Hawks would come in, while the Apaches started looking at what the heck was going on down below. You’ve got a UAV that’s on-station watching, 12-hours prior, checking out everything.  You’ve got a bunch of intel guys checking signal communications, trying to figure out, and confirm, who’s down there.  But we don’t want to tip our hand with Apaches loitering overhead, because then everybody starts to put their sandals on, put a fresh magazine in their AK-47’s, and it gets real kinetic, real fast!” To try to prevent that reaction on the ground, as much as possible, the Apaches would either do an off-set orbit, or trail well behind the Black Hawks.

Another difference, now, from those days in Iraq, was where the Black Hawks would actually land. It used to be right next to a building in the target village (landing to the “X”), remembered Kline.  But no longer.  “We started to get shot at a lot, so we added about 300-meters to the LZ (landing to the “Y”), because that’s their max effective range (the enemy AK-47’s).  So we’d land out here, or even on the other side of a terrain feature (e.g., a hill), but still close, and our infantry guys would work their way into the villages.”

On other occasions, with a mission far more covert, Kline outlined the differing procedures: “We’d fly off-set (Black Hawks) and, at the appointed time, come in high-up and put only about five soldiers on a mountain top (number of troops limited by the greater engine strain of high-altitude flight),  placing just that ‘support-by-fire’ team up there (snipers and Javelin missile systems), with the Chinook carrying the main force (about 30), landing out of gun-fire range, somewhere down near the village itself.  So you’d have the supporting fires up-top, and the Apaches, too, would be working the area. Then the infantry force, on the ground, would start moving in and clearing the village out.”  Stacked up above them would usually be an Air Force AC-130 gun ship, maybe a flight of F-16’s, or a flight of A-10’s, or Navy F-18’s.  “So if things got dicey for the infantry, if they needed fire-power, either our Apaches could call it in, or the infantry could, since they would have an Air Force JTAC with them on the ground.”  As for the length of these kinds of missions, they would typically run anywhere from “4-hours to 36-hours,” said Kline, “although with special operators, it’s maybe two hours max.  They go in, hit the target, and they’re out.”

With insertion of conventional Army infantry troops, their ground missions typically went longer, as they would “root around” looking for insurgents, or for safety’s sake (aircraft, crew, and team in the back), insertions may even be delayed, totally, until first-light, in order to mitigate the accidental risk, which for helicopters in Afghanistan, especially, was really high.

Recalled Kline:  “There were a couple of catastrophic crashes (e.g., Black Hawk with Navy SEALS on-board in 2010), others from trying to land at nine or ten-thousand feet and just run out of power, that kind of thing.  Browning out, rolling Chinooks; the flying environment over there is just hellacious.  Altitudes are crazy, and you still have the heat, still have the dust.  Add those latter components to the high altitudes, and now your engines are starved for power.  You just can’t do it. Actually, you can, but you need to train your butt off,” noted Kline.

In order to do that, to better master the life/death demands of high-altitude flying requirement, the Army started sending its pilots to Colorado to gain the recommended techniques, and the necessary proficiency, principally through lessons-learned “from our Night Stalker brethren.” As a result of this specialized training, along with the rigors of on-going piloting skills enhancement, and, importantly, the seasoning accumulated through actual battlefield missions flown, “I would argue  right now,” said Kline, “that within the ranks of the conventional Army, our aviators are as good as they’ve ever been. Now, Night Stalkers still lead the way.  And we’ve always sent the very best out of our ranks to the Night Stalkers, as it should be.”  As a veteran pilot, and a Combat Aviation Brigade commander, no question, Colonel Kline has the earned, well-deserved credibility to make that assessment, one he offers with genuine pride in the Army’s aviation community.

But he does fear that pilots in conventional Army aviation may lose that combat-experience edge, with the inevitable departure from the day-after-day demands, and flying savvy, imposed by the prolonged Iraq, and especially, the Afghanistan conflicts. And that can only be mitigated by lessons-learned passed down from more senior, oft-deployed aviators, to the junior ones, now with limited or no deployment experience.  Couple that with constant flying in real-world training scenarios, the latter, of course, can only happen, in the author’s opinion, if Congress provides a realistic level of funding to allow for both the necessary flight time, and state-of-the-art aviation equipment, in order to generate and maintain, as much as possible, that life-preserving combat-flight edge.

Mission ready, LTC John Kline “Strapping on a Black Hawk.”

Looking back on two other Afghanistan missions, then-Lieutenant-Colonel Kline and his team (two Black Hawks and two Apaches), were dispatched to villages where Taliban militants had been fighting troops of the Afghan Army.   Kline landed near one village and, this time, off-loaded a Special Forces team tasked to head into town to gain information from the locals.  No sooner had they started, than the SF guys realized they had become the target of a hidden sniper, fortunately one whose aim, initially, wasn’t particularly good!

Kline and his crew lifted off to take a look around to see if, from above, they could spot the sniper who was threatening the mission of our SF soldiers on the ground.  Before long, on a near-by hillside, the Apaches noticed an earth-tone sheet that appeared to have someone sitting under it, that sheet color chosen specifically because it was hard to detect with the naked eye.  And because it helped dissipate the heat of the day, it made the shooter harder to detect via aerial infrared thermal-sights, as well.

The Apaches then requested clearance to engage that, so he thought, hidden sniper.  Once green-lighted, they promptly fired a ten-round burst of attention-getting 30-mm rounds directly into that sheet.   To make certain the sniper was out of business, Kline landed and inserted a couple of SF guys who approached cautiously to check.  They found a radio, sniper rifle and expended shell casings. And that Taliban shooter was quite dead.  So much so, recalled Kline, that “the sniper’s severed scalp actually blew off the hill from my rotor wash!” It’s just a darn good idea never to attract the business-end of an Apache!

In a somewhat similar instance of troops off-loaded to follow-up on the target of air-to-ground fire, two of our Kiowa Warrior helicopters had spotted a Taliban IED trigger-man in the process of digging a hide-hole next to his motorcycle, his presence a clear threat to our troops.  With clearance, they commencing firing on the insurgent.  To double-check on post-fire status, Kline landed his Black Hawk near-by and dispatched a couple of on-board Navy SEAL’s.  They approached, as always, with caution, and good thing.  Unlike the sniper described above, despite live-fire from the Kiowa’s, this IED-detonation guy was somehow still alive, and armed with a supply of grenades, making him a continuing threat.  But he’d be a threat no more, as the SEAL’s efficiently parted him from his motorcycle, his grenades, and this earth.  No report was filed on the injury-status of the motorcycle.

Looking back on his over two-decades of Army experience, when asked how he would define courage, Colonel Kline responded: “It’s doing the mission or action you wouldn’t normally want to do, because of the existing conditions or obvious danger, but you go ahead and do it anyway.”  On another of his many Afghan missions, this one on his first OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM deployment (2008), Kline recalled the courage of those from his group, up-close, under fire.

Two Black Hawks and a Chinook had arrived, and landed, at a pre-arranged spot, to pick-up U.S. forces. No sooner had the Black Hawks landed, than “RPG’s start whizzing across their noses, behind the tails, hitting the ground all around them,” remembered Kline.   At that point, the three pilots are on the radio, together realizing they’re in real danger, with the urgent need to get out of there. Just then, an RPG hit one of the landed Black Hawks broadside.  But with good fortune, under the circumstances. “I think it was just a stage-one detonation.  There are actually two stages with an RPG-7. Had the second one detonated, it probably would’ve been catastrophic,” he said.

But even though lives on-board the aircraft were spared by the limited detonation, there was still some serious damage, as the shell had punctured the Black Hawk’s fuel cell located toward the back of the helicopter.  “Now, they know they’re in trouble.  The left door gunner’s got shrapnel in his legs, and the crew chief radios the pilot that, not only was that fuel cell hit, but now it’s on fire!,” recalls Kline.

With the whole row of back seats already burning, but with the smile of good fortune again, there was apparently little likelihood of an explosion.  Realizing that he must quickly reposition his aircraft to avoid further hits, the pilot manages to lift off and move it just about 600-meters distant, enough to get it out of the direct ‘kill zone.’

He landed and performed an emergency shut-down, while the remaining crew exited the aircraft. But despite the repositioning, the Taliban troops, sensing blood in the water, began to converge on the downed Black Hawk, determined to complete the kill.  With the enemy approaching, the pilot pulls his injured door-gunner onto the ground, lies on top to protect him, and with his flight helmet still on, takes his M-4 and starts picking-off the advancing enemy troops.

Meanwhile, the Chinook pilot, seeing what’s going on, alertly lifts off, and lands in between the downed Black Hawk and the approaching Taliban troops.  The handful of Special Forces soldiers, still on-board the Chinook, peel out the back and “with their M-240-Bravo machine guns, just start mowing them down,” related Kline.  After the crew members from the badly-burned Black Hawk had destroyed any remaining sensitive equipment and materials on their damaged aircraft, those crew members were then waved onto the Chinook, and with all the SF guys back on-board, the two remaining aircraft flew out of there.

The Black Hawk command pilot, who protected his crew-mate and fired on those kill-hungry Taliban, with effect and great courage, was later awarded the Silver Star.  The Chinook pilots, bravely facing enemy fire to effectively block the Black Hawk, along with a definite rapid-fire assist from those Special Forces soldiers on-board, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their outcome-changing reaction.

Apart from any specific mission, from all that he had witnessed, Colonel Kline had great, comprehensive praise for the courageous, unceasing rescue actions of the Army medevac crews, operating day and night, throughout the combat zones. There were countless memories of heroic actions by these crews. One in particular stood out in his mind from Afghanistan.  Going right into a “super-hot” LZ, where nine soldiers had already been killed.  “Flying into that whole mess up in RC East, under a hail of bullets, saving lives. They had two or three guys that were urgent-surgical in the back of their aircraft, and they only had so many hands, and they’re tying everybody off, pushing fluids, doing the best they can, and trying to resuscitate them.  There were hundreds of those stories,” remembered Kline.

When asked to recall what missions or actions, over the course of his three combat deployments had caused him to draw deep-down on all of his strength and training, perhaps not surprisingly, the Colonel’s response was all of them, whether actually doing the flying in both conflicts, or serving as the decision-maker on the ground as a commander in Afghanistan.

“It was the myriad of decisions that you’re making on a daily basis, some of which are life and death.  That’s what takes the mental strength, day after day, mission after mission.  Are we going to go up and get those SEALs who are on a mountain-top at 9,500-feet, when the weather forecast has just rolled in, it’s terrible, and we can see them from the UAV (real-time video) and they’re freezing their butts off?  Or are we going to launch the one of the “gazillion” medevac missions when the weather is crap? Are we going to launch that medevac before the launch is even approved?  Are we going to shoot the sniper on the hill or not?  Are we going to shoot the guy we believe has just set-off the IED, because we’re afraid he’s going to get away, and are we willing to accept the wrath if we haven’t exactly met the rules of engagement?  Am I going to let my Pathfinders go into the mosque and follow the guys we know are bad, and we know we’re not supposed to go into a mosque?”  Missions he either flew, or for which he had to make those hard-call decisions, all of which, for Kline, became the ultimate responsibility.


Perspectives on Leadership:  Colonel  (now Brigadier-General) John D. Kline, United States Army (2015 Interview / Hunter Army Airfield)

Colonel (now BG) John Kline

Now, away from the battlefield, home from combat, for the time being (2015), and while serving then as the Third I.D.’s Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, when asked to look back, reflecting on lessons-learned over the course of his two-decade-plus Army career, broader questions about character and leadership were posed to him (the other key element, personal courage, having already been covered by definition and example above).  Regarding the importance of character, overall, Kline responded:  “I tell our soldiers here in the Brigade that I am convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, I can train any soldier to do anything, including becoming a helicopter pilot.  What’s harder to do is to develop character, although we’ll take that task on the best we can.  At the end of the day, I’m looking for good people, first.  People of integrity who’ll take the harder right, rather than the easier wrong.  Then, I’ll train them to be anything we need them to be.”

Solid character is a fundamental, sought-after, American virtue.  Next, Colonel Kline was asked what he felt were the most important components of character on the pathway to leadership?  Without hesitation, he said:  “Honesty.  A person who’s a man or woman of their word. Someone that doesn’t hesitate to give me the bad news, overlooking how they may be perceived, by peers and others, for doing so.  Those who are completely forthright, candid, transparent. And always, always thinking about others before themselves; the consummate team-player, if you will.  That’s when character is the most obvious.  Anytime somebody starts to toot their own horn, they’re no longer authentic.  They become disingenuous, in my book.”

Then, based on his considerable experience as a military leader, what did he see as, perhaps, the most important traits or qualities for sustainably-effective leadership?  To this, Kline responded:  “What I’m looking for in terms of the potential for officers whom I think can go all the way is, first and foremost, their ability to influence those around them to get the job done, despite how crappy the job may be!  The ability, in effect, to encourage others to do those things they wouldn’t normally want to do, but in such a way that they do want to do it.  And, preferably, not by means of negativity or threats.  That’s where the art comes in.  Rather than negative order or threat, like: “You are gonna do what I told you to do, and you’re gonna do it right now, or I’m gonna UCMJ (Universal Code of Military Justice) your butt.’   And with that, I’ve just provided to that soldier the Army’s procedural ‘purpose, direction, and motivation’!”  On the flip side I could say, instead: ‘I need you to go out there and cut the grass.  I know it sucks, but here’s why.  And you’ve got to provide the why.  ‘The reason I need you to cut the grass is we live by a higher standard.  And we don’t want to look sloppy.  The soldiers of Marne Air (3CAB/Marne Division) are not slobs, so I need you to go out there and cut that grass so it looks like the standard we live by.’  Then you’ll have a soldier who goes out there, understanding what he’s got to do, and a solid reason why,” illustrated Kline.

“And a lot of that, I think, comes through presence.  It’s that officer or leader that the soldiers naturally migrate to.  They like him or her as a person.  And sometimes it’s because they have a good sense of humor.  That’s a great leadership trait.  You can, of course, take the job seriously, but don’t take yourself so seriously.”

“You want to be that leader who’s approachable, that you’re not feared.  I want our officers to get to the point where the soldiers seek their guidance. They know that when they go into their leader’s office, they’re gonna get good advice, and they’re gonna leave that office feeling better than they did when they went in.  If the soldier must deliver some bad news, forthrightly, they need to know they’re not gonna get reamed.  That officer is gonna help problem solve.  Listening, it’s a wonderful trait! Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll better understand why they made the decisions they did.  Doesn’t mean you condone the issue or actions taken, but you can try to understand. Above all, a leader must remain very objective; stay as fair, and consistent, as humanly possible.”

When asked to provide a memorable, and, to him, impressive example of leadership, drawing upon or perhaps even summarizing many of the traits he’s just described, Colonel Kline thought back to an instance several years earlier at Fort Campbell involving a Private First Class and his top commander.   Nearing deployment, the soldier went out one evening, had too much to drink, got into a fight, and was arrested.  Subsequently, the soldier’s chain of command came to the Brigade Commander, Colonel (now Major-General) James Richardson, requesting that he not come down too harshly on the young man, that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, that the incident was not at all typical of this promising PFC, whom they felt was deserving of a second chance. So, even though this kind of a disciplinary situation would normally be handled much lower in the command chain, Colonel Richardson called the young man into his office.  And rather than berate him, he gave him an assignment. Kline relates the discussion.

“There was a memorial service the following day for a soldier who had died.  Colonel Richardson said to the PFC: ‘I’m going to give you this Brigade coin, and I want you to sit in the very back row of the chapel.  I want you to get your dress blues on, and I want you to listen to the entire ceremony.’  Richardson continued: ‘When the service is over, I want you to be the last guy to put the coin at the base of the rifle (part of the standard display in memory of the fallen, located at the very front of the sanctuary). And I want you to think about your actions.’

The next day, with the service just about to begin, Colonel Richardson walked in through the back of the chapel, looked over and spotted the soldier sitting there, just as he had ordered.  The PFC had his coin, but had no idea what the memorial service would involve, since he’d never attended one before.  At the conclusion, as instructed, he walked forward silently and intently to the front of the chapel, then placed the Brigade coin at the base of the upright, solitary rifle.

The lesson that Colonel Richardson wanted to instill in that young man was “life is short, so don’t waste it by screwing up.“ The fact that the young man had, indeed, screwed up, juxtaposed with experiencing a memorial to the loss of life, and future promise of a fellow soldier, had, in fact, made a definite and lasting impact on him.  “From that experience,” recalled Kline, “emerged the best soldier you ever saw. And later, when we were deployed in Afghanistan, that PFC came up to the Colonel and thanked him, saying he’d never forget that experience or what it had taught him.  That inspired act of leadership, helping to mold a deserving young soldier early-on, providing him with a second chance for success, really made a lasting impression on me,” said Kline.

On the subject of non-combat courage, Colonel Kline emphasized the growing importance, and current emphasis, in the Army of ‘bystander intervention’ (of pertinence, as well, to our citizenry at large).  Getting involved when we witness an illegal or immoral act, when it’s so much easier, or, sadly, non-instinctive, to just leave it alone, look the other way, and keep on going.  There is a major push Army-wide to re-energize that pro-involvement instinct; to try to help, rather than ignore.  All officers and soldiers now receive special training, dealing specifically with the need to intervene when things aren’t right, particularly in a social setting, and to make it more vivid and instinctive to do so.  To impress upon troops a compelling need, as in all things that they do, on and off-duty, to take the path of the harder right.

Much, if not most, of this training and awareness is targeted at the proper reaction if one is witness to sexual assault or the seeming plans for same.  Going against the current of one’s peers can make that harder right, for many, all too difficult.  And that, points out Kline, is why bystander intervention requires great courage, going against the will of others involved. “If you want me to highlight some courage, it’s not necessarily kicking-in doors in combat.  It’s that Army Specialist who’s in a house-party with all his buddies, the peer pressure’s off the charts, and he sees something going on that, if he interferes, speaks up, or goes to his chain of command, he knows he’s going to be extremely unpopular, isolating himself from all of his friends (friends he probably shouldn’t have anyway), and he’ll be ostracized, if he does anything.  But then he goes ahead and does it anyway!  That’s perhaps the epitome of social courage,” in Kline’s view.

To conclude our discussion, when asked if there’s anything that still “wakes him up at night,” after his years of direct involvement in Middle East combat, without hesitating, Colonel Kline replied:  “Yes, footsteps on gravel!!”

That’s the sound he would hear, almost nightly, after a challenging day of flying and decision-making, as a subordinate would approach his tent in the middle of the night, to wake him, “sometimes even by just a soft knock on the door, as if the messenger was attempted to perhaps soften the impact of an already crappy event,” interrupting his ever-limited sleep, in order to get his approval to initiate or cancel a mission, where, most normally, lives would be on the line.

As the Colonel learned first-hand, countless times: “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” And, not unexpectedly, to this day, there is no gravel permitted anywhere near the Colonel’s office or home!

Afghanistan, Helmand Province 2016. Colonel John Kline with his Afghan partner LTG Moen Faqir, 215th Corp Commanding General (on right).

Post-Combat Zone Assignments:  Following Colonel Kline’s third deployment to Afghanistan (2015-2016),  he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he served as the Deputy Director of the office responsible for providing oversight of aviation operations (DAMO-AV) (2016-2017).  He then became (2017-2018) the Executive Officer for the Army G3/5/7 (the Lieutenant-General responsible for developing and managing all Army operations, plans, and training).

In May of 2018, Colonel Kline moved from Washington, D.C. to Washington State, there to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), where he currently serves as the Deputy Commanding General for Support (DCG-S) for the 7th Infantry Division, receiving his promotion, there, to Brigadier-General.

(Copyright 2018 William L. Cathcart, Ph.D.)