5:11 | 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.
Keywords : Jon Keen Afghanistan scout platoon Jumpmaster School Italy Afghanistan Iraq Robert Gates Kunar Province Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) The Ranch House Taliban Matt Ferraro Ben Hall Korengal Valley
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.
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.
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 Korangal, the action in the Korangal 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 Korangal 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.)
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Bob Stewart was more nervous going to Vietnam than he was going into space the first time. You could get maimed in combat but in space you were either A-OK or completely gone. He made two flights on the space shuttle and, along with Bruce McCandless, made the first EVA with the new MMU, the Manned Maneuvering Unit.
He repaired radios in the Marines, but Norman Kling was now an electrical engineer working at McDonnell Douglas. When he tried to get his Marine Reserve commander to recommend him for a commission, the answer caused him to leave the Reserve.
After the Challenger tragedy, NASA mission specialist Bob Stewart returned to the Army where they made him a general. He worked at the Strategic Defense Command, a legacy of Ronald Reagan's SDI program. At some point the Army wanted him in Washington DC, at which point he promoted himself to ski bum.
Returning Marine Norman Kling had his eye on college when he got home from the Pacific. He entered the electrical engineering program at Washington University in his home town of St. Louis. He had a soft spot for the Corps in his heart or maybe it was his head. Either way, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve.
Some of his pilot friends were recruited by the airlines but Bob Stewart had other ideas. He became a test pilot. They got the money but he had the fun. He was instrumental in bringing the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters into the Army's fleet of airships.
When the cease fire was declared, American units had not yet reached Baghdad. In his command track, Geoff Farrell had the graphics on his screen to guide him right in, but it was decided we would not go. Looking back to that critical moment, he reflects on the decision.
Bob Stewart arrived in Houston as the first active Army officer to become a space shuttle mission specialist. After a year of classes, he was given a technical task, develop the shuttle's entry flight control system. The first flight was scheduled for two years out but he had to give management some bad news.
After the battle, the men of the 2nd Armored Cavalry did humanitarian work for the Iraqi civilians, then it was time to return to Germany. For Geoff Farrell, a feeling of unreality set in on the flight home. How do you decompress from combat? At least those who fought in this war were not going to experience the humiliation that Vietnam veterans had faced.
Bob Stewart was walking on air. He just got a call from NASA that he was accepted as a mission specialist on the space shuttle program. He was going to be an astronaut, but first he had one more flight in his capacity as an Army test pilot.
He considered it the finest education available. Geoff Farrell went to West Point, where he soaked up all the history and knowledge available there. He was assigned to Europe, where he patrolled the German border as Soviet Communism was dying. There was a brief period of jubilation when the wall came down, then they heard about Saddam Hussein.
Lt. Geoff Farrell was sleeping in the command track when he heard it on the radio. We were at war with Iraq. His armored cavalry unit crossed from Saudi Arabia into Iraq where they were greeted by friendly children in the middle of nowhere.
During Operation Just Cause, John Le Moyne was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as a liaison officer to other agencies. In this capacity, he was able to observe some high level command operations that were very impressive. It was only a short while after this brief conflict that Saddam Hussein began to make noise in the Middle East.
They had prepared for the wrong war. Geoff Farrell's armored cavalry unit was going to the desert to confront Saddam Hussein, but their vehicles and uniforms were green and all their training was for fighting in European forests. Once they got to the staging area in Saudi Arabia, they adapted well.
John Le Moyne had come in to Saudi Arabia leading an advance team. Starting from scratch in the desert, in the summer, huge operating bases were established. The locals were amazed at the way the Americans adapted to the environment. It was during this conflict that many innovations in troop care and comfort were devised.
It was near anarchy in Budapest following the fall of the Nazis. Many were starving surrounded by rubble. Bob Ratonyi was overjoyed when his mother returned from a labor camp but then he watched as communists turned Hungary into a Stalinist dictatorship.
Thermal imaging had been around for a while and Geoff Farrell was very familiar with it. GPS, however, was new and expensive, and no one was familiar with it. Both were integral to the swift victory in Desert Storm. Before his deployment he declined a dose of an experimental drug that was supposed to protect against chemical weapons and he wonders if that drug contributed to Gulf War Syndrome.
He was free. Bob Ratonyi had made it out of communist Hungary into Austria. His first stop was a refugee camp, which was overcrowded. He made it to Vienna with the help of a Catholic charity and, once there, he made straight for the American embassy. Unfortunately, the quota for refugees had been met. He had three choices, Australia, Sweden and Canada.
John Le Moyne never had a bad assignment. That's the way he looked at it, anyway, and it had a lot to do with the excellent leaders he encountered throughout his career. They helped him crack the code on how to win the trust of soldiers.
It was all propaganda, everything on the radio and in the newspapers. That was life in communist Hungary as Bob Ratonyi was coming of age. He urged his mother to take an offered post as the party representative at her factory so she could take advantage of it.
For Geoff Farrell, who fought in Desert Storm with the armored cavalry, it was obvious. It was technology and training that ensured victory. We had a lot of it and the Iraqis had very little. Our weapons had a longer range and, when a sandstorm came up in the middle of a battle, we had GPS and thermal imaging.