KABUL, Afghanistan -- Sitting on an airplane and traveling for work, some people read the latest paperwork bestseller, take a nap or chat with their neighbors. Most of the time, when the plane empties its travelers, they will leave their terminal never to be seen again. That wasn’t the case for Air Force Captains Michael Huegerich and Rich Marchetti.
The two traveled from Norfolk, Va., to their deployment in Kabul, Afghanistan and ended up in the same office.
"It wasn’t until we were in the same office that we began getting to know one another," Huegerich wrote in an email. "I overheard him talking about his home in Vermont and naturally I was drawn in and began asking questions.
Capt. Rich Marchetti, left, and Capt. Michael Huegerich, who first crossed paths while students at Burr and Burton Academy several years ago, wound up
"When I asked whether he was from Manchester or Manchester Center, he realized quickly that I must be from the area."
Marchetti is a Vermont native, growing up in Manchester, attending Manchester Elementary Middle School and Burr and Burton Academy. Huegerich also attended BBA, after his family moved to Vermont from North Carolina for his father’s job, Jane Huegerich, his mother, said. "This is just a tremendous fate," she said.
It was in a BBA classroom that the two originally met. In Mr. Chris Kochenour’s advisory room, where he was placed as a freshman, Marchetti wrote, Huegerich was a senior leader, who helped provide guidance to the younger students.
"It was actually from Mike that I first heard about the September 11th attacks. I remember him stopping into Mr. Kochenour’s room to let him know that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center," he wrote. "I would have never imagined at the time that I would be serving with him 13 years later in the war that followed those events."
Both chose to serve in the Air Force, but took different routes. Huegerich attended the Air Force Academy spurred by the events of September 11, where he played Division 1 soccer and accumulated 600 military skydives. He even jumped into the 2006 National Championship Rose Bowl Game, he wrote.
Including his four years in college, he has served for 12 years in the military. He chose this branch over others because he wanted to do something different than his family members -- who had served in the U.S. Navy -- and they told him Air Force people always treated them well. Marchetti joined the Air Force four years ago. He had always wanted to serve and saw what his brother Evan, a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter pilot has accomplished in the Air Force, he wrote.
"I originally joined the Air Force because I was and continue to be fascinated with flight, rocketry and the engineering behind them," he wrote. "I remember spending hours with my dad, a brilliant engineer himself, as we built and perfected our own rocket engines, launched rockets at Manchester Parks and Rec, and went over the math and physics behind what we had done."
As part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), both are responsible for facilitating the hand over of security operations to the Afghan military and police as the U. S. withdraws most of its troops from the region at the end of the year, Marchetti wrote. As commodity managers, Huegerich wrote they are both responsible for portfolios in excess of $1 billion a piece. They help identify what the Afghan army and police need to maintain their operations, and purchase the equipment.
"Ultimately, our goal is to allow them to one day sustain and defend themselves," he wrote.
While both expressed their love for serving their country, being deployed and away from home is not easy. Barbara Marchetti, Rich’s mother, said Facetime and other technology has made it easier.
"It’s almost as if they’re right there," she said. "It makes you feel that even though they’re not as safe as you wish, you can see them and see that they’re healthy."
When the two first realized they both had Manchester connections, food was one of the topics of discussion. Huegerich wrote they talked about the "unforgettable pizza from Christo’s" and "the fantastic subs from Zoey’s." Both said the food in Afghanistan is not the best they’ve ever had.
"The cook at the dining facility apparently has a deep-seated love for curry and finds a way to incorporate it into everything he cooks, regardless of cuisine," Marchetti wrote.
However, horrible cuisine aside, missing loved ones is the most difficult part of being deployed. Marchetti said, like his mother, video chatting helps, but it’s not the same as being home. For Huegerich, his deployment is especially hard. His wife just had twins.
"I have newborn twins at home and I wish more than anything that I was there with them," he wrote. "Literally, we had just discovered that we were having twins when I was told that I would have to go to Afghanistan. I am counting the days until I return home."
While it is difficult being away from family, deployment also allows for incredible experiences. Huegerich wrote for him, the best part is seeing the unwavering commitment and service those he’s serving with exhibit. He wrote they work long hours, seven days a week, away from family and in dangerous situations.
"It has truly been an honor to serve alongside them," he wrote.
Marchetti also said all the people he’s met and worked with is also the best part of deployment. ISAF is made up of personnel from 42 countries, he wrote, and because of this he has been able to meet people from all walks of life, while experiencing a part of the world many don’t get a chance to.
"My own life the experience has given me a greater appreciation for where I come from," he wrote. "Life for the people here can harsh and at times brutal, and I hope Vermonters realize how blessed they are to live in such a beautiful and peaceful place."
When their deployments end in the fall, both men will be able to return home and see their families. Marchetti plans to leave the military behind and return to Vermont, where he’ll join the family engineering business. For Huegerich, he is still exploring what he would like to do for the rest of his career.
Meeting in a freshman classroom and again later is coincidence enough, but halfway across the world in Kabul means someone is looking out for them, Jane Huegerich said.
"I know that he’s being watched over," she said. "You know that he has someone watching over him and brought him into company with people he knew years ago."