With the clear exception of US soldiers and their families, Afghanistan hasn’t mattered much to Americans. That was true a decade ago and in recent years.
Most Americans know our country has been involved in a war there, but we’d guess only a minority — probably a small minority — could even name the capital city or any of the provinces. Afghanistan is too far away, too hostile, too strange to occupy our thoughts for long, even though we’ve had combat troops there longer than we had troops in Iraq.
Yet hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, including thousands from Fort Riley, have fought in Afghanistan and tried, sometimes with success, to improve the lot of its people. More than 2,100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, sometimes by bombs planted in the roads and sometimes in firefights. Day after day they’ve demonstrated courage, even heroism, in ways large and small that go untold to folks back in their own country.
One of those individuals, a former soldier who was once stationed at Fort Riley, will soon be honored for his valor. That soldier is former Capt. Will Swenson, who served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before being part of a training team in Kunar Province in 2009 that came under attack. In a ceremony at the White House on Oct. 15, Capt. Swenson will receive our nation’s highest honor for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
A little more than four years ago, on Sept. 8, 2009, Capt. Swanson and his team of border police were entering the village of Ganjgal when they came under attack by Taliban insurgents in what became known as the Battle of Ganjgal. According to military accounts, Capt. Swenson ignored radio communications from insurgents calling on him to surrender, instead returning fire and directing Afghan soldiers. He also repeatedly put himself in the line of fire to recover wounded soldiers and administered first aid to at least one of them.
If he is like other American soldiers who’ve fought in this war and in others, Capt. Swenson, who left the Army in 2011, would likely say he was just doing his job and protecting his comrades, individuals who would have done the same for him.
We salute Capt. Swenson for his bravery, and we salute the countless acts of heroism that U.S. soldiers have performed in Afghanistan and that the American public will never know about.