5:07 | His father had a long Army career so it was not unusual for Jon Keen to join ROTC in college and then enlist in the National Guard. He was in basic training on September 11, 2001 and the events of that day would have a profound effect on the rest of his training and on the rest of his life. After Airborne and Ranger schools, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2005.
Keywords : Jon Keen Ken Keen Columbus GA Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) National Guard Airborne 9-11 9/11 Ranger School Afghanistan Zabul Province
On the Afghan border with Pakistan, platoon leader Jon Keen had the difficult job of finding Taliban fighters and sympathizers among the local population. Sometimes, this did not make many friends. He did have a good friend in his interpreter, who at great risk to himself and his family, helped the Americans.
On a mission to visit the Afghan villages in his area, Jon Keen's unit experienced its first casualty and he experienced his first live fire. Many of the civilians were resentful of the American soldiers and he relates two incidents which contributed to this feeling.
Jon Keen was back in Italy training with his Airborne unit when he got two pieces of news. One was that deployments would be extended to fifteen months and the other was that they would be returning to Afghanistan instead of going to Iraq. This time it would be the Korengal Valley which challenged the men and the action began the very first day.
It was tough during his second tour of Afghanistan, but Jon Keen reveals how he tried to help his platoon cope, including that most sacred of American male rituals, the video game. Not that he had much spare time, because in addition to his duties as scout platoon leader, he ran the detention facility in Asadabad.
As documented in the movies Restrepo and Korengal, the action in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan was fierce. During one firefight, platoon leader Jon Keen took cover and when he looked around for his men, he had a startling discovery.
Perhaps the scariest experience for Jon Keen in Afghanistan was the night time drive on a particular mountainside road in the Korengal Valley. It was a long way down with not much clearance for the vehicles. One of his most rewarding experiences was the mission to recover a fallen comrade.
Jon Keen was helping unload casualties in Asadabad, Afghanistan when he saw his platoon sergeant among the wounded, a sight which seared his memory. It was difficult for the Afghans as well. The dead children he carried from helicopters is another forever memory. During this time, two Medal of Honor events occurred in a large operation called Rock Avalanche.
There was one last big action just before his tour was over and then Jon Keen could look forward to returning home. The replacement unit that moved into his position in Afghanistan began taking casualties right away, so nothing had changed. He reflects on the challenges he faced there and how the attack on September 11, 2001 shaped his life.
The transition from military to civilian life is never easy, but Jon Keen credits Deloitte with making incredible efforts to help him and other veterans who are undergoing this change of life.
Jon Keen's photos give a glimpse into daily life for him and his unit during his 1st tour in Afghanistan. These photos show what the terrain, living conditions, and civilian interaction were like. (Jon is also a dedicated volunteer interviewer.)
Jon Keen's photos from his 2nd Tour in Afghanistan show the mountainous terrain, what it's like to spend the holidays in a war zone, and the grief of losing your fellow soldiers. (Jon is also a dedicated WTW volunteer interviewer.)
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
After being a live fire trainer for a few years, Jason Wilebski got to see the operations side of the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in high tech equipment in the HQ but he still maintained a map with push pins. This impressed the brass. (Caution: strong language)
He had a greater appreciation for life when he returned from his first tour of Afghanistan. But Josh Rodriguez had to readjust to family and finances and continue with his career. He wanted more than anything to get back into combat as a company commander.
After his train up, Joe Diomede's motor transport outfit joined the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit on a cruise. He spent a lot of time fighting rust on his trucks down in the hold but he had time to visit a lot of interesting ports of call and he got to meet a SEAL team celebrating a successful mission. (Caution: strong language.)
Military service was the family business. Robert Rose followed his father's lead and enlisted in the Army reserves after three years of college. He wasn't a great soldier during his initial training but his sergeant in advanced training sent him to someone who could be a great mentor for him.
Mobilization is a lot of work for a sergeant like Michael Trost. Paperwork and medical stuff. He nearly didn't make the tour because of high cholesterol. He persevered and he was glad because it had been a long wait for action and he had assembled a great team
Due to his peculiar enlistment contract, Robert Rose didn't have to go to Afghanistan, but when his Reserve unit deployed, he felt he had to go. It was a civil affairs unit and, once he was there, the missions were varied and, inevitably, involved something that he had to study to understand, like prison assessments.
He had an Iraq tour under his belt, but Colin Walsh wanted something different and he got reclassified into Civil Affairs. The medical and humanitarian aspect appealed to him. He managed to get into a unit that was slated for Afghanistan and began working to get a plum assignment there.
It was a big convoy with over a hundred local Afghan national fuel trucks along with Marine tactical vehicles. As soon as they set out, torrential rains began and everything slowed to a crawl. Joe Diomede remembers the boredom of being stuck in one place for days at a time. This was interrupted more than once by attacks, including one that crippled his vehicle.
The men of the 489th Civil affairs Battalion were having a good deployment in Afghanistan despite mistrust of their Afghan allies and intermittent funding for their projects. That all changed one day when they took an official from USAID with them to assess local schools. Out of nowhere, machine gun fire erupted and a scramble for life began. Michael Trost, Robert Rose and Colin Walsh combine to tell the story of this surprise attack. (Caution: strong language.)
Platoon leader Josh Rodriguez had just told his commander that his exhausted men were not going to move out as ordered. He didn't have much time to question that decision because the radio came to life with the news that OP Bari Alai, near where he declined to go, was under attack with just a handful of defenders. Part 3 of 9.
Afghanistan veteran Andrew Witzel is not at all happy about the pullout from that country. How in the world would anyone want to be our ally? He feels remorse for the women and girls who are losing their opportunity to thrive in an open society.
It was their worst day in Afghanistan. Joe Diomede's Motor T unit was in a convoy when a truck up front hit a mine. Another truck moved up to help and it hit a mine. Then his truck got hit. Before it was over, at least nine trucks were disabled.
Now he understands how those Vietnam veterans must of felt. When the Afghanistan withdrawal unfolded the way it did, Michael Trost felt a new kinship with them. Still, he was proud of his team and he knew they made the best of a bad situation.
The pilot said he could take out the attackers but the blast would be in the danger close zone, almost right on top of the position where Josh Rodriguez and a handful of men were nearly overrun by the Taliban. Drop it, he said. Everyone hit the deck. Part 8 of 9.
When he got to Afghanistan, he knew the mission was going to be frustrating. Colin Walsh was in a Civil Affairs unit with erratic project funding and unreliable Afghan partners. It was a good team, though, and they decided to make the best of it.
Between his Afghanistan tours, Josh Rodriguez was lucky to be mentored by his commander at the Recruiting Command. He learned to work a room and how to network, valuable skills for an Army officer. After that assignment and after the Captains Career Course, he readied to return overseas.
Joe Diomede was one of five boys growing up in New Jersey in what was a pretty rowdy home. One of his brothers was serious about becoming a special forces member but it wasn't on Joe's radar. After 9/11 he was angry, like everyone else, but the memory had faded somewhat by the time he graduated high school.
Why were we there? Afghanistan veteran Zack Knight recalls what a General said to him while he was there. If what he said is true, the withdrawal could be troublesome for us as well as the Afghan people. He also has some surprising ideas on leadership and a not so surprising choice of inspirational music.
Josh Rodriguez knew he had to get a Ranger tab to continue on the path he wanted. He got in as a walk on and made it through Ranger School, but he didn't get the assignment he wanted. Then, he heard about a position as an aide de camp to a general officer.
The new operation in Afghanistan was named Freedom's Sentinel. Zack Knight was a brand new platoon leader who was told to forget guard duty, he and his men were going straight into combat ops. The rules of engagement had been loosened and they were told to go out and make contact.
When Joe Diomede got to Afghanistan, he thought he had landed back in Twentynine Palms. His anxiety level started to creep upward when he saw gun emplacements but he knew he was well trained and ready for anything. He was a "Motor T" Marine who was there to run convoys so, naturally, his first action involved an IED.
Colin Walsh describes an incident in which an Afghan Police colonel sought justice when a drunk American threatened a relative. He was in the man's office surrounded by Afghan police and he was starting to fear for his safety, but then he spoke to the men like a diplomat. (Caution: strong language.)
The Taliban was warned that if they engaged in attacks during the withdrawal, the Americans would revert to combat operations. There was no response when they did, however, and platoon leader Zack Knight returned home with remorse and anger over how his Afghan allies had been abandoned. His downward spiral increased with the discovery of a hidden injury.
Josh Rodriguez had just rushed his men to the base of a mountain where OP Bari Alai was under furious attack at the top. Helicopter pilots reported that at least one of the defenders looked to be alive, so there was hope. He and his platoon were under fire as they climbed the steep path to the top where they found total devastation. Part 4 of 9.