Part 1 of 2
"A lot of troops in Afghanistan feel like they're forgotten because it seems the whole focus is on Iraq," U.S. Army Spc. Ryan Edmondson said Sept. 13, during an interview about his service. The 21-year-old Brazil native, who's home on leave after a 10 month deployment in Afghanistan, discussed America's involvement in the Middle East.
"We're in two separate and distinct wars," Edmondson said recalling the history that precipitated U.S. military action in the Mid East.
"We went to Afghanistan because of 9/11. The terrorists on the hijacked planes had their training camps and bases in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan government supported the Al-Qaida terrorist network. That's why we went into Afghanistan.
"We thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Huesein would sell them to the terrorists. Nobody knows for sure why we went in there. But I haven't been there or fought there so I have no opinion on Iraq. President Bush is my Commander. I think he's doing a pretty good job."
Edmondson said the news media now talks mostly about events happening in Iraq. A daily casualty count seems to be the key focus. Actions in Afghanistan are seldom covered anymore. Edmondson said he thought that gives Americans the impression that Iraq is the only place where war activities are taking place. That's demoralizing to the troops in Afghanistan.
More than 1000 troops have died in Iraq. Edmondson said between 100 to 150 Americans have also died in Afghanistan and hostile actions continue there against U.S. troops.
The son of Jim Searcy of Brazil and Sally Criss of Evansville, Edmondson graduated from Northview High School in 2001. He joined the regular Army in July, 2002, and became a Medic for the 501 Parachutes Infantry Regimen (PIR) stationed in Ft. Richardson, Alaska.
Edmondson left Alaska Oct. 28, 2003, for Afghanistan. He was on the front line to take care of his unit which had about 40 soldiers under his watch.
He was asked how the Afghanistan people treated the Americans.
"To our faces they acted like they wanted us there," he answered. "They like the food, water and money we give them. And they like that we're rebuilding their country. But we were told later that they hid Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters or they'd cached weapons for them. And they gave us a lot of bad information. Not all of them, but enough to make it very frustrating."
Edmondson explained that the soldiers had to always be leery. The enemy dresses like the civilians so it's difficult to distinguish who the enemy is. Even when the soldiers were shot at, they usually didn't know where the shots came from.
The young solemn soldier said he'd never been shot at directly but had a close call. It was not uncommon for civilians, of any age, to run at them yelling or throwing rocks.
Once Edmondson was in a truck with some comrades. A man came out of a house, ran up to the truck and threw something at it. The soldiers thought it was a rock. It hit the truck and bounced back. After the man retrieved the item and, again, threw it at the truck, one of the soldiers recognized that it was a grenade. An infantryman shot the man but he'd already released it. Even though the explosive detonated before it hit the vehicle, two soldiers were hit by pieces of shrapnel. Fortunately, their wounds were not life threatening.
"I was scared to death," Edmondson said. "We were lucky that the Afghanis use munitions left over from the Russian war. They're old and not dependable. One time a man had a suicide vest on with seven grenades on it. He pulled all seven and none exploded. The one the man threw at us did explode but it was delayed. It could have been a lot worse."
Some Afghanis would also fire 107 mm rockets at the base. They didn't have a launcher so they'd prop them up with a rock or log in the mountains. Somehow, they'd ignite the engine to launch them.
Helicopters were sent out, after the attacks, to the spot where the rocket had been launched. But no one was ever there. Timers were set so detonation was delayed by a day or so.
"Usually they would overshoot or undershoot the base or hit the air strip," Edmondson said. "Once a tent was hit and six people were injured."
The intense young soldier said when they initially arrived, it was frightening the first couple of times that they went out. Eventually, they relaxed some and maybe got a little complacent. It's difficult to sustain a high level of emotional readiness for extended periods.
Edmondson said after a while, the soldiers would learn the Afghanistany culture. They began to recognize what was normal and they usually knew when things were right and when they were not right.
Tomorrow: Spc. Edmondson talks about soldier morale.