Checking out of Afghanistan with the world waiting

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2008

This is the last weekly e-mail I compose from Camp Eggers, Kabul, Afghanistan.

I’ve completed my final projects, commanded my last convoy mission, and was even fortunate enough to tag along on one final humanitarian assistance mission. I’m packed and ready to begin my redeployment process via the Navy’s Warrior Transition Program (WTP). But that’s only part of the fun ahead. Just getting to WTP will be another adventure of this deployment, as will be the follow-on travel to get home to Virginia.

The WTP takes place in Kuwait. To get to WTP I first need to convoy north to Bagram Air Field, then wait. Next I’ll fly to Qatar; then wait.

I’ll fly into Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, spend a night, then convoy to Camp Arifjan and spend four days in the WTP. The program is designed to reintegrate Individual Augmentees, such as myself, back into “real” life and, dare I say, a “normal society.”

The Navy will ensure I have the opportunity to rest and decompress, though I’m going to refer to it as “Deployment Detox.”

Additionally I’ll attend classes, counseling and briefings

from chaplains, personnel and health care professionals preparing me to go through the mental and logistical transition of being out of the combat zone and back to my family and home.

For what it’s worth, WTP will certainly afford me the opportunity to relax, reflect on all the crazy experiences, sights and things that I would have never imagined myself doing over a year ago. That being said, I finally have sensed the end and I’m ready for it to all be over.

I have a strong feeling that I’ll repeat this experience, perhaps next time in Iraq.

People have asked me if I’m bitter that I had to go and leave home for more than a year, especially after deploying to Haiti, Cuba and the Middle East in 2005-2006.

I put on the uniform and took an oath back in 1987 to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, and bear true faith and allegiance to the same. It’s my job and I love the Navy,

so when the orders were given I didn’t attempt to “skate” or “med” my way out of them. I went and did my job.

I’m glad I did because I know I’m a much better person because of it.

This has been the most rewarding and exciting tour of my 20-year career.

The story of my tour of duty is just one of many that are out there. I did not “save the world” or do anything I consider heroic. There are thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans amongst us who have not said or penned anything, yet are dealing with more than anyone could ever imagine. If you would, when you come cross those who are serving, have served, or about to serve, such as my son Christopher and my niece/god-daughter Alexis, please offer them a simple heart-felt thanks.

This also applies to my fellow veterans of the previous wars and especially those who served in Korea and Vietnam. I wish America’s gratitude would have been different towards you.

OK, time for what has become the million dollar e-mail question that I’ve been getting for the last few weeks; “How are things going in Afghanistan, and are we winning?”

Well, I can honestly say we are winning on the military side of this war.

The U.S., Coalition (ISAF) and Afghan Armies have defeated the Taliban, al-Qaida, and a ton of other insurgents in dozens of direct engagements and battles during my tour. However, suicide bombings have increased because the enemy adapted, saw what was working in Iraq and decided it’s probably the only way to undermine the security situation.

I’m not sure if there is a way to ever prevent those types of attacks.

We continue to bring about peace and stability to many new parts of the country, but without a Coalition effort to provide the necessary manpower, the Taliban and other bad guys still will intimidate many people, especially in the remote areas.

The Afghan National Army is becoming a professional, well-trained and equipped force that should soon be able to fully provide for its country’s security.

I think we have won over many minds but there is still work to do. Educating and enlightening the Afghan people needs to be a top priority. As future Afghan generations embrace freedom and think freely, change will occur at a faster rate. You can see traces of the attitude shift now, particularly among the young. The Afghan economy improves daily and the streets of Kabul are alive with business. Important infrastructure and health projects like new roads and highways, bridges and schools continue.

People are offering security forces and the police tips on insurgent activity without the need for cash payments. From conversations I’ve had with average local citizens, the people are tired of war, conflict and oppression; They just want to work, provide for their families and enjoy life.

There are still many reasons why the Afghans could see a return to civil war so the world needs to remain proactive and committed in Afghanistan.

The Afghans fully realize that if the international community leaves now, they will return to violence among themselves, and Afghanistan will become a hellhole once again.

Don Wilson, a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, is deployed in Afghanistan. He e-mails a letter home each week, and this is an edited version of that e-mail. His family lives in Ivor. His letters appear on Wednesdays.