News: Westphal brings a ‘Touch of Home’ to Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. Tamika Dillard
KABUL, Afghanistan – The Thanksgiving holiday is a time when families come from around the world, gather around the dinner table and enjoy a festive meal. For deployed service members and civilians, a taste of home landed right in their back yards.
The Honorable Dr. Joseph W. Westphal, Under Secretary of the U.S. Army, surprised service members with one of America’s favorite past time players, the New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, along with his actress wife, Joanna Garcia Swisher. The two wed Aug. 23, and joined Westphal Nov. 23-25 to spend their Thanksgiving and honeymoon with soldiers in Afghanistan.
During their three-day whirlwind tour of Afghanistan, Westphal visited more than 1,000 U.S. Army soldiers; receiving an opportunity to pin combat action badges on 18 service members deployed from larger areas, such as Kabul and Kandahar, to smaller areas such as Forward Operating Base Walton and Camp Nathan Smith.
“It was great to see the Under Secretary of the Army and the Swishers,” said Pfc. Marques Rockemore, USA coin recipient. “It means a lot to me because we don’t get a lot of visitors up here [FOB Walton]. We work seven days a week to help in making Afghanistan safe so to see them was very rewarding as well as exciting.
While visiting Camp Nathan Smith, Westphal and the Swishers walked through dinner lines with soldiers, enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal and handed out autographed pictures and baseballs.
At each FOB or camp Westphal visited, he brought words of encouragement with him about what was happening on the home front.
“This visit is to reiterate Army senior leaders' appreciation for the service and sacrifices that soldiers, families and Department of the Army civilians have made,” said Westphal.
“These deployed soldiers are making a difference. Every day soldiers of all skills are working with the security forces of Afghanistan in supporting them in taking back their country.”
The Swishers also had a few words for deployed soldiers to express their appreciation for what they do for their country.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I would be standing here, let alone meeting the people who give us what we have back in the states,” said Swisher. “We are here on behalf of the American public and, in person, it’s so much better – the feeling that we get from meeting people like you. This is the reason we are here, it’s because of you guys. We could not have picked a better place for our honeymoon than to share it with the baddest [SOBs] in the world.”
Garcia Swisher added to her husband’s heartfelt words, “We may not be your family but I know this is a time when you think about your family and you miss your family but we hope that we can show you how much we love you.”
Westphal and the Swishers had one more important stop to bring the Thanksgiving evening to a close: a tour of Kandahar’s Role 3 Hospital.
Kandahar Role 3 Hospital is one of the most advanced hospitals in Afghanistan, recently moved into a modern, custom-built fortified building on the sprawling airbase that serves as the nerve center for the NATO military effort in southwestern Afghanistan.
“It feels good to walk through this building and see that all the beds are empty,” said Westphal.
With all the emergency room beds empty and no incoming patients in sight, the Swishers took the opportunity to take pictures and autograph memorabilia for the emergency room staff.
As they wrapped up their visit, soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-82 Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., got wind that Nov. 25 was Swishers birthday, and planned a big surprise for him.
Swisher was presented with a huge birthday cake, a certificate of appreciation and an American Flag by Westphal and Maj. Gen. James Huggins, Regional Command South commander.
FOB Shank aircrew had a little surprise of their own for the Swishers. They took them up in a UH-60 Black Hawk and allowed him to fire an M240 machine gun onto an authorized firing range.
Swisher, with so much excitement in his voice, tells the aviation crew members that this was the best birthday present he has ever received, and he will remember it for the rest of his life.
Westphal and the Swishers continued on travel to visit service members and civilians in Belgium.