Portales railroad engineer Carlos Sena of the New Mexico Army National Guard tried to find the words to describe his overseas experience.
"I can't even say enough …" he said, falling silent. "The people I worked with are arguably the most professional I've seen."
Sena, a chief warrant officer 2, and Eastern New Mexico University alumni Chris Holland, a lieutenant colonel, said overseas deployment changed their lives forever.
Holland, an Albuquerque resident and attorney, and Sena were part of a medical evacuation unit in Afghanistan from June 2011 through April.
"A lot of the medi-vacs we did were grievously wounded," Holland said of the injured Army and Marine soldiers his unit evacuated. "There were a large number of amputees."
Holland said the unit executed 1,450 missions involving 1,800 patients.
"We weren't there to fight; we were there to support, so it was kind of a different perspective, I think," Sena said. "Seeing young guys losing their legs and their arms, it makes you realize how much we take for granted, like walking."
Holland said the Department of Defense requires medical evacuation helicopter units to be off the ground within 15 minutes of receiving a call, giving unit members a short time frame to prepare, whether it was day or night.
"We had about a 99.9 percent success rate. Out of 1,450 missions, we got all of them off the ground with the exception of two," Holland said. "I feel like we made a big impact over there. They (unit members) know somebody's life is on the line and they have to get there fast."
Holland and Sena said their unit was made up of 109 members, mostly from New Mexico.
Both men said all the unit members began as strangers and left as life-long friends.
"With the mission, I didn't know what to expect because I had never been deployed before," Sena said. "You go through things that no one else will ever understand. You go through moments where you think, 'Wow, we made it through that.'"
"We went over there knowing we were short-handed," Holland said. "We didn't get any special allowances being in a war zone. I was really worried about keeping those helicopters in the air when we first got there because our maintenance crews had been cut by about a third."
Holland said more than anything, what stands out in his mind concerning the mission was the men he worked with.
"I'm just really proud of those guys and the unit," he said. "That's the biggest impact it's had on me is what we were able to accomplish."
Sena said what impacted him most was the "men on the ground" they were there to support.
"I just can't say enough about them," Sena said. "Being in the military, I can't imagine walking through what those guys do. It's amazing what those guys do on the ground. It brings a whole new perspective on life."