It will be hard for the soldiers of Alpha Battery of the 1/118 Field Artillery Battalion to take the warmth shown them Tuesday morning on their cold march through the streets of Springfield and Rincon.
The best that we, as a community, can do over the next year as those soldiers and hundreds of others from across Georgia is be there for their families and to continue to remind the citizen-soldiers how much we appreciate what they are doing in Afghanistan.
For more than seven years, U.S. and coalition forces have tried to uproot and suppress Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. It’s a vastly different environment, in many ways, from what our troops are used to.
The terrain and the climate are difficult and treacherous. The Afghans, long noted for their warrior culture and for their defiant resistance to foreign invaders, have little experience with democracy prior to 2001 — Afghanistan gained independence in 1919 but a 1973 coup ended its democratic form of government. Barely a quarter of the country’s nearly 33 million people are literate, and the life expectancy rate is 44 years.
It is a land-locked country and supplies are either flown in or brought in on convoys through Pakistan, across stretches of land where lawlessness reigns.
It is a poor country and very little of its land is suitable for farming. Its No. 1 crop is the poppy, used to make opium and its derivative narcotics, and curtailing the drug trade out of Afghanistan has been a thorn in the side of the West for years.
The U.S. and more than three dozen other nations have committed forces to help stand up and train the Afghan security forces and to eradicate the forces of terrorism. There are more than 35,000 U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan, and more are on the way — including Georgia’s 48th Brigade, of which Alpha Battery is a part, and Florida’s 53rd Infantry Brigade, also a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Alpha Battery and the 48th Brigade served nobly in Iraq for a year, taking on many dangerous missions. It was proof that they can and will serve with distinction and courage, after they were relegated to the sidelines for Operation Desert Storm a decade before.
And now, they are being called to defend freedom far from Georgia’s shores and to help stamp out a nest of terrorism that has threatened the security and safety of Americans everywhere. It’s a difficult task to which they have been summoned.
As his troops stood assembled in front of him Tuesday morning, Alpha Battery commander 1st Lt. Patrick Grover told them, “Thank you for all you do.”
He may as well have been speaking for all of us.