Local soldier shares war views experiences;

Published 2:30 am Monday, September 24, 2007

By By JOHN TAYLOR, Special to the Washington Daily News
John Taylor is one of Beaufort County’s native sons serving overseas in the U.S. military. The son of Caren Newman of the Douglas Crossroads-Bunyan area of Beaufort County and Scottie Taylor of Pinetown, Taylor is a helicopter door gunner in the Army currently on his second tour in Afghanistan.
Taylor has e-mailed Newman numerous photos of his experiences overseas. Recently, Newman forwarded some of those photos to the Washington Daily News.
This began an e-mail exchange between Taylor and WDN Lifestyles &Features Editor Kevin Scott Cutler. What follows is an excerpt of that correspondence — a straight-from-the-front-lines view of the war in Afghanistan in Taylor’s own words.
BAGRAM, AFGHANISTAN — On Aug. 18 my battalion, 3-82 GSAB (General Support Aviation Battalion), under the guidance of the 82nd Aviation Brigade and the 82nd Airborne, conducted a humanitarian aid mission to the local populace of Bagram and Bagram Army Airfield.
The mission was conducted within the wire of the Egyptian hospital set up here for the purpose of providing basic health for the local populace. This hospital tends to many illnesses, injuries and medical issues, most of them being injuries of small children.
The majority of these “accidents” are from children and abandoned military explosives/weapons crossing paths. One of the children walking around was a boy about the age of 8-9 years old who was missing his right arm from below the elbow. I asked one of the nurses and she told me that he had picked up a UXO (Unexploded Ordinance), in this case a hand grenade, more than likely left over from the Afghan-Soviet conflict years ago. As soon as the child picked it up, it exploded in his hand. The rest is history. This is a weekly occurrence, the nurse explained to me.
Speaking from a military point, it is a common problem in such a war torn country as this, and unfortunately it’s the children who pay the price. U.S. and Coalition soldiers know better then to go trekking in uncharted or unfamiliar territory due to this problem. I have walked around and found a couple in my time here and soldiers/contractors find them all the time around here while building roads, installing power-lines, digging ditches and so on. The EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit is called in and most of the time it’s a 20-30 year old can of tuna or sometimes, in fact, it’s an explosive device of some sort.
The U.S. has done many things to try to prevent the injuries of the innocent. Coloring books with detailed pictures explaining what to do in case something like this is found are dropped from helicopters all the time and passed out in other missions such as this humanitarian mission.
On a lighter note, Task Force Pegasus and Task Force Talon of Ft. Bragg passed out many items to the women and children such as blankets, shoes, book bags, school supplies, hygiene products, some simple toys, coloring books and crayons and lastly LOTS of soccer balls and candy. Soccer balls were the most requested but candy would get your clothes ripped off by little hands.
Words cannot describe the warmth in a person’s heart to be involved in such a mission to bring small things to those who have nothing! Some kids were just happy to be in the presence of someone who would take five minutes to try and communicate with them.
Children with no idea how to talk would come and try to talk to us. A small girl who kept following me around with her smaller brother, she being about 7-8 years old, caught my attention. For some reason I said “hello” to her and she answered back in plain English. Well, after I picked my jaw up off the ground, we began to have a pretty good conversation. As I would get closer to her to try to not feel like I was yelling over the noise of the crowd, she would instinctively cover her face with her scarf and shyly move away — just a sign of the difference in our cultures.
Here, women are not treated in anyway equal to a man, so someone talking and not yelling at her was quite a shock. In a way it’s heartbreaking. There were at least three children that I wanted to put in my rucksack and bring back home with me to take care of.
Wrapping things up, the military and other units around the globe do these missions on a daily basis but how many times is it on national news? NEVER. It makes my blood boil. Not only is it due to the fact that the “good” story never sells, but also that the media is playing into what every Insurgent on this planet wants — to make the war unpopular, ultimately ending all operations — leaving them to do as they please, regroup and carry out the next attack they want to who, when and where!
Some people may say that I make this up due to my biased opinion because I’m in the military, but here is my point and example. We have always thrown lots of soccer balls out of the helicopters to kids anywhere — school playgrounds, farms wherever there is a gathering. Well, now we are not allowed to due to the fact that BBC put out a news report, naming my brigade commander by NAME saying that his soldiers were throwing soccer balls, intentionally hitting and injuring them!
Can you believe that? OUTRAGEOUS! Now do you think that report came from any U.S. or Coalition source? NO! It came from some anti-American or Insurgent-supported individual and relayed to reporters as a complaint and they AIRED IT!
Hope you enjoyed the pictures and the story. Thanks for your support and the support of others.
SPC John S. Taylor