News: Connecticut Guard Soldiers reflect on year in Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Matthew Clifton
By Sgt. Matthew Clifton
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GARDEZ, Afghanistan – Whether serving on active duty, Army Reserve or Army National Guard, deployments have become all but inevitable for Soldiers in the U.S. Army.
Some troops have seen more years in Iraq or Afghanistan than they have seen at their home station, while some Soldiers are going through their first deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Regardless if a Soldier is on their first or fourth deployment, war does not discriminate between them.
The Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut National Guard are weeks away from completing their first tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Alpha Company arrived at Forward Operating Base Gardez April 18, 2006, and was immediately put to work, said Sgt. John Julian, team leader, 1st Platoon, Co. A.
Although this deployment is Julian's first, he is no stranger to serving overseas for the military. Having spent eight years in the Marine Corps working with aircraft, Julian has seen duty in Japan, Australia, Alaska and Egypt.
Fort Worth, Texas, however, is one station he remembers above them all. This is where Julian was during the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
"I was pulling an ejection seat out of an F-16 fighter jet when the whole base went on lock down," he said. "I was so [angry] something like that could happen on our own soil and immediately my thoughts went to my grandfather who enlisted in the infantry after the attack on Pearl Harbor."
Immediately after the base was locked down, Julian remembers loading the same jet with live ordnance.
Julian tried to change jobs and join the infantry, but the Marine Corps wouldn't allow him because of how much money they had spent training him to work with aircraft.
"When my service in the Corps was over, I went to the Army to see if they would let me join an infantry unit," Julian explained. "I was able to join the [Conn. Natl. Guard] and then we came to Afghanistan."
Julian has no regrets about what he did and plans on re-enlisting in the Marines when he gets back to the U.S.
"I'm happy with what I did here," he continued. "I served my country for a year and I enjoy life in the military."
No doubt there were some good times for Julian and his comrades, but those good times were not without some very hard ones.
A Co. was attached to a provincial reconstruction team upon arriving at FOB Gardez. A PRT's mission is to facilitate the development of their assigned provinces through projects like the building of roads, schools and medical clinics.
However, the mission of Co. A is to provide security for these troops when they go out to conduct reconstruction missions and the enemy could care less why a Soldier is outside the wire.
"[The enemy] doesn't care if you're in the National Guard or if you're not on a combat mission," said Staff Sgt. Richard Rafferty, team leader, 1st Plt., Co. A. "We get attacked just like anyone else does."
This was most apparent on Nov. 2, 2006, when Rafferty, Julian and their brothers in 1st Platoon were out on a seemingly normal mission.
"We were out by the Pakistan border when we got tasked to take on an additional side mission," Rafferty said. "We were ambushed with rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire on both sides of the convoy."
One of the platoon's two crew serve weapons was disabled along with the Humvee it was attached to. The weapon's gunner was severely injured along with the driver, Rafferty said.
"We returned fire until [the enemy] broke contact, then we immediately gave aid to the wounded," he continued. "Luckily no one was fatally injured, and only one of our guys couldn't come back to duty."
Thinking back on the multiple attacks Co. A has endured while deployed, Rafferty and Julian still keep a positive attitude.
"When you get to see things like schools and orphanages being built it really feels rewarding," Julian said. "Knowing that the locals are driving out the insurgents and coming to us for help is the main reason we are here."
Rafferty recollects the lack of any paved roads in their area when Co. A. first deployed. Now there are roads spanning much of the province he has helped protect and improve.
1st Platoon's last mission was to provide security for a groundbreaking ceremony in the city of Salam Khail.
Now the only thing standing between them and a completed deployment where every Soldier made it home is a convoy to Bagram Airfield to catch a plane out of the country, headed straight for the United States, their families and normal life.