Cheryl Hatch, the former University of Alaska Fairbanks Snedden chair of Journalism is in Afghanistan visiting Fort Wainwright Stryker brigade troops. Last week Hatch was in Khenjakak, which is the combat outpost for Charlie Company in the 1st battalion, 5th infantry regiment of the 125th Stryker brigade. Hatch says it’s in the Panjawa’i district, an area she says is in the heart of the Taliban. Hatch is working on stories for the Christian Science Monitor following an Army female engagement team as they make contact with Afghan women to help them assess their access to health care and schools.
“They were able to do things like Midwifery programs, well baby programs, some sewing and other types of teaching and vocational things to help them. But they’re just getting started here in Panjawa’i.”
Hatch is no stranger to traveling alone in conflict areas. She’s covered Middle East and African combat in the past. She’s also been in Khenjakak before and plans to visit all the different companies while she’s in Afghanistan.
“ So there’s Bravo, stationed at Sperwan Ghar and there’s Alpha company that’s farther down on the horn. So with luck, I’ll be able to visit all the different companies within this battalion and maybe one other battalion while I’m here.”
Hatch says although the Brigade has been hit hard, they’ve suffered 21 deaths and IEDs continue to be a problem, she says they are making good progress. She says work clearing IEDS has been productive and they are returning facilities to the control of local government and performing joint operations with the Afghan National Army or ANA.
Sergeant Robert Taylor agrees. Sergeant Taylor is approaching his two year service anniversary. He says he joined the Army late, going to college first and working as a financial advisor before deciding to join the service. The 28 year old says he didn’t know how much he’d love it and want to make it a career. He says they’re making progress suppressing insurgent activity and turning things over to the ANA.
“Which is a big success for our ability to leave this country. And once we completed that, we’re now working on our second area and everything here is going as smoothly as it did before and the transition is going well so, from what I’ve had to experience with this war? Very successful.”
Sergeant Taylor says morale is good as they prepare to end their deployment, possibly within the next 60 days. He says all soldiers have fears, but family, friends and plans for the future help them stay motivated.
“What everyone is doing, it seems the general public supports us, even if they don’t support the war, they seem to support the sacrifices we make and its noticeable. And when you just have someone that acknowledges you for doing what you’re doing, whether they agree with it or not, that makes you feel good, it makes you feel like you’re a part of something that’s much bigger than you.”
Sergeant Shawn Eidson is also part of the Fort Wainwright Stryker team. The 26 year old, is nicknamed ‘Bluegrass’, not because he’s a musician, but simply because, being from Georgia, he loves bluegrass music. He says the Afghan people, many of them farmers were apprehensive about the Army’s presence at first, but when they realized the soldiers are there to help, things changed.
“We’ve been here almost a year now and just from the time we first got here up until now, you can really see a big transition in the population. How people are coming out now and it seems like it’s a lot securer and people are enjoying themselves a lot better.”
Journalist Cheryl Hatch says a Lt. Colonel she spoke to told her the work list they wanted to accomplish in 12 months has been completed in 6. The soldiers are still going out on missions and patrols but have started the transition toward preparing to leave the country and ending their deployment.
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