View from the Front: Alumni Take on Terrorists
By France Griggs Sloat
Kevin Garfield always wanted to be a soldier. So armed with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and an ROTC commission in 1998, Garfield strode off to do his part. His tour took him around the world, and by November, with the Enduring Freedom campaign well under way in Afghanistan, Garfield’s skills as a communications and electronics officer were put to the test. His 5th Special Forces team moved to a base in Uzbekistan from which it could support the campaign in Afghanistan.
Their mission was to conduct “unconventional warfare with the anti-Taliban forces of the region,” he says in e-mail dispatches, carefully obscuring exact locations and maneuvers. They lived in safe houses and kept on the move to avoid detection by al-Qaeda forces. After extensive American bombing runs to rout al-Qaeda forces from the rugged mountain terrain, Garfield’s team helped scour caves for remnants of the fighters and their supplies. He was there when three Special Forces soldiers from his unit were killed by a wayward Air Force bomb in early December.
“I knew them very well and had been working with them for quite a while,” he says. “I also had one of my soldiers lose an eye and he will be walking with a cane for the rest of his life. And another one of my friends had his eardrums shattered and will never hear again.”
Capt. Garfield was back in Uzbekistan by January, and flew home to Fort Campbell, Ky., in February, where he awaited his next mission. The time away gave him time to ponder the bigger questions of war.
“Death is never so frightening until it happens in front of you and to someone you know and care about,” he writes. “I have a great deal of memories from my experiences; some I will cherish and some will haunt me for the rest of my life…To anyone thinking of joining the service, war is not glamorous or fun…[and] when you are directly involved in wartime operations, there is nothing that can prepare you for what you will see and have to do during combat.”
This past New Year’s Eve, R.C. “Archie” DeJesus, like many Americans, saw brilliant fireworks light up the night in celebration of the holiday. Except that Capt. DeJesus, sitting in the navigator’s seat on a C-130 Air Force transport plane, was actually seeing the flashes of tracer rounds from weapons fired by Pakistani soldiers below.
In e-mailed letters home, DeJesus, a 1997 communications graduate with an Air Force ROTC commission, describes his experiences and emotions since being deployed to Oman. He and his crew have flown more than 60 missions, logging more than 200 hours of combat flight time. Their first mission was to pick up two Special Forces soldiers who died when hit by a wayward U.S. bomb in Afghanistan. The two metal coffins, packed with ice, were accompanied by the soldiers’ Army captain, who said he was only 22 feet away from the explosion.
Other missions involved delivering food, water, ammunition and other supplies to Marines protecting airfields from attacking fighters. “Try landing a 45-ton plane on a runway without any lights while the soldiers you are resupplying are busy in the middle of holding off outside attacks,” DeJesus says. “There’s really no time for us to second-guess each other.”
Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, first lieutenant Kerry Artist envisioned herself scaling rocks in Afghanistan’s desert seeking suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Nothing less seemed worth doing.
But the 1999 communications and ROTC graduate found herself staying stateside, supporting and training young National Guard soldiers in the skills of airport security in Augusta and Portland, Maine, where she relocated after completing her two-year service commitment at Fort Campbell, Ky.
It didn’t take long for her to realize how valuable--and fulfilling--her participation in the nation’s homeland security has been.
Because she’s an officer, she trains soldiers in the field. “We’ve taught soldiers basic riflemanship, making sure they know how to fire and handle weapons, security training on how to search personnel for any type of weapons, how to search civilians and how to treat civilians and the whole terrorism scenario."
For the first three months after she graduated, Artist put her Reserve Officer Training Corps skills to use working as a recruiter of incoming freshmen, then training in the U.S. Army’s chemical and signal corps. She feels well-prepared and knows the chances of being called up to active duty are greater now than ever.
She remembers while a student in ROTC realizing she could be sent to hot spots around the world such as the Gulf War. “It’s definitely more a reality now," she says. "I definitely feel I’m doing my part to serve my country. It makes me feel good and I wish everyone else could have the same feeling."
In his day job, John Kruthaupt wears the uniform of a special agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Las Vegas, Nev. But he moonlights as a supervisor for the Nevada National Guard, which, now that he’s stationed with the activated 72nd Military Police Company in Monterey, Cal., has taken over his life.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
"It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There’s always someone on duty. During a regular week, I put in about 20 hours a day," says Kruthaupt, 37, who graduated in 1989 with a degree in international affairs and an ROTC commission. “I’m a commander of the unit in charge of about 100 soldiers."
Since early October, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Kruthaupt’s company has provided security at the Presidio of Monterey, a U.S. Army base that holds about 3,000 soldiers. Their specific mission is to guard the Defense Language Institute, where service members of all military branches come to learn foreign languages ranging from Korean and Chinese to Arabic and German. Kruthaupt’s team patrols the access points into and out of the base, making sure those who enter have proper identification and permission to be there. They encountered no terrorist activity in the first few months, he says, just the occasional inebriated soldier behind the wheel. They search vehicles at random and also patrol the nearby military housing neighborhoods.
Ironically, the team had just wrapped up a two-week training session on how to guard special forces soldiers at Fort Polk, La., on Sept. 10 and was flying out the next day when the terrorist attack happened in New York. Their flights were delayed but they were activated shortly after arriving back in Nevada to do the same type of mission they had trained for. The assignment could last up to two years, which Kruthaupt says is unlikely. Even so, he says he’d serve it gladly despite being separated from his wife, Fabiola, and their three small children.
“I’m very proud to be involved. I left my family behind in Las Vegas and I told them I miss you guys a lot, but I am proud to be doing this now and if I had been sent to Afghanistan, I would be just as happy," says Kruthaupt, who served seven months in the Persian Gulf War. “I think we all took this attack pretty personally. I miss my family terribly, but some things are worth sacrificing for and this is one of them."