Airmen share their prespective on Afghanistan from the inside
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 1, 2011 1:49 PM
They saw Afghanistan through different eyes -- the handful of enlisted airmen and Air Force officers who unwrapped their respective experiences in the country Monday evening inside the Arts Council of Wayne County headquarters.
But as an F-15E aviator, Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight member, chaplain's assistant, Afghan National Army mentor and teacher talked about their most recent tours during a discussion panel designed to enlighten the dozen-plus Wayne County residents in attendance, those on the receiving end found similarities in their perspectives of the war-torn nation.
All seemed to agree that the vast majority of Afghans live in a level of poverty most Americans could never quite imagine.
In fact, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Merritt, who served as a mentor to members of the Afghan National Army from December 2008 to December 2009, characterized some of the nomads he came across as "beyond poor."
"That's all they know," he said.
And Capt. Aaron Dove described Strike Eagle flights over parts of the country that revealed remote villages that consisted of simple mud huts -- places hundreds of miles from roads.
"It's pretty rough," he said.
Master Sgt. Matt Hivner came across more amenities, but kept coming back to images of children with no shoes begging in the streets.
"It was very, very sad to see."
The airmen also had common ground when it came to losses suffered in theater -- all briefly discussed the death of a friend or comrade when asked to detail their worst day in Afghanistan.
For Master Sgt. Christopher Wakham, it was responding, with other members of his EOD detail, to an improvise explosive device blast that killed seven American troops.
"I'm not the happy-go-lucky side of Afghanistan," he said at one point. "It was hard to find a good day."
And for Merritt, it was losing six friends during his year at war -- and having to escort service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to Bagram Airfield for treatment.
"That, in itself, was depressing," he said.
And then there was Dove, who called the combat sortie that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross his worst experience, despite the coveted decoration that came with it.
It was Oct. 3, 2009, and Coalition Observation Post Keating was being overrun.
"Seeing the entire base on fire ... was one of those days that was a little bit demoralizing," he said. "To say the least."
They come from different walks of life -- a variety of career fields that left some living out of backpacks while others enjoyed home-like living conditions while deployed.
But each of those who blocked out a portion of their Monday evening to share a part of their life experience with perfect strangers, said they found some hope within their stint spent thousands of miles away.
Wakham saw it in a Taliban-controlled village, when a national's willingness to help the American effort begged the question, "Maybe we can do this?"
"He did all that knowing that if anyone found out, he would be killed," the airman said.
And for Dove, the conversation he had with a local farmer was among those things that made his missions feel worth it.
"They're just like us -- they have hopes and dreams like all of us do," he said.