Editor’s note: Lucas Hynes, an Effingham County native and resident currently in Afghanistan, offered to write a first-person account of life in a combat zone for the Effingham Herald.
Here is his story, in words and pictures.
I initially planned to write this story around Thanksgiving. It seemed fitting to put out a story about thankfulness and gratitude just prior to that specific holiday, but a few incidences and turn of events here in Afghanistan have changed my mind and I have chosen to go ahead and push this out to the citizens of Effingham, and the surrounding areas.
I figured it just might do some good to send it out early. I wanted to tell a story from Afghanistan that does not focus on casualties, gun battles and mistakes made by coalition forces. Although it may not be as exciting and as breathtaking as the aforementioned topics, it is what I see. And it’s what I feel most others like me, who go out on daily missions into Afghanistan’s cities and mountain villages, see. It is not from the perspective of a journalist, a statistician or a reporter. It’s from the eyes of an American soldier.
I’m obviously not a professional writer or journalist or I wouldn’t be here in Afghanistan, but I wanted to put out this story not only for everyone else's benefit, but to also get some stress off of my chest. My goal is not to change the world with this article, but to simply let the community know another side of what is really taking place over here.
And just maybe, when families gather around the same dinner table that they do every year to give thanks, the blessings that are spoken just may be a little different from the last. The prayers just may have a few additions to it, and the lists of things to be thankful for may grow longer. They may have a different perspective on things. If this article will open just one person’s eyes to see life a little more clearly, like the many training missions and three tours I have done in Afghanistan and Iraq have opened mine, then I have achieved my goal.
I was 17 … and I was just as blind to the world as most graduating teenagers are at that stage in life, back when our major priorities were being popular and dating the cool girls and playing sports. I had no clue what I wanted out of life. I was focused on continuing my education at Georgia Southern University. I was anxious to meet Glenn, Adam, Joel, Mike and many other friends that had also chosen to attend GSU the year prior. I, and a posse of others from the ECHS/SEHS year 2000 graduating class, were ready to make that transformation from being a Rebel or Mustang to becoming an Eagle in Statesboro. After all, it was going to be a blast. No parents to deal with. No teachers to force you to go to class. Freedom, right? Now, all I had to do was pay for it. Little did I know that I was about to get “educated” on the word freedom.
I and another friend, Michael Banister, had both signed a contract with the Army National Guard earlier that year in mid-March. I had always considered it, and he thought it to be a good idea. After all, they granted you money for college tuition. There was no war going on, right? And we were going to be Guardsmen, not joining the active component.
So after basic training and our advanced individual training, I attended GSU and Mike, who was a year older, continued his education there. We moved in together in an apartment in Statesboro, and I started taking classes and living the college dream.
Weeks into the beginning of my second semester, I woke up to that infamous day that I will always remember until the day I die; the day that changed my life. Classes were canceled, eyes all over the nation were glued to TV sets, and calls to loved ones were made. In a split second, a nation became truly united.
That very same day Mike and I received a call from our Army unit’s commander and we were put on a standby status. Before Christmas hit that year, I, a 19-year-old college freshman, carried a rifle and enough gear to nearly make me fall over, off the back of a C-130 military plane onto the cold, hard surface of Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. My new classroom was Afghanistan, and my new professors were the members of the 3rd Group, Special Forces, who took me in under their professional safeguard for months until the rest of my Georgia based unit could join me. That was day one of my ongoing “education” on the word freedom.
I am currently back in Afghanistan, over seven years later, continuing my education. I just recently graduated from GSU. It took me eight years due to the tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. It wasn’t quite the college career I had expected, but I have learned just as much, if not more, from my experiences at war than any Ivy League college could have taught me. You cannot learn things about life, love and loss by reading Shakespeare. You can’t understand loyalty, duty and honor by taking classes. That’s something people learn from experiences and lessons over a lifetime, and I was fortunate enough to gain these experiences and to be taught some of these lessons at an early stage in life. I want and feel the need to share just some of the many experiences and lessons I’ve learned.