The medal count in the ceremony at Fort Riley this week honoring soldiers of the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry for their work in Afghanistan was impressive: 27 Bronze Stars, eight Army Commendation Medals for Valor and 64 — 64! — Purple Hearts.
Sadly, as a story in Wednesday’s Mercury explained, seven of those Purple Hearts went to soldiers who were killed on the 11-month deployment to one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The unit was in the Zhari district in the Kandahar province, the area where the Taliban originated.
A good indication of the intensity of the deployment came from Command Sergeant Major Charles Cook, who’s seen plenty of combat in the three decades he’s served in the Army. He called it “the most violent action I have seen in my 30 years.”
Violence — firefights and incoming artillery were daily occurrences; indeed, the days without exchanges of fire of one kind or another were the exception.
That their courage, and the courage of so many other military personnel from Fort Riley and other installations, has been an everyday occurrence does not diminish it. These soldiers fought for their country and they fought for one another, suffering wounds and, in seven instances on this deployment alone, death. That’s not ordinary valor, if there is such a thing. That’s extraordinary.
So is the fact that while holding off and even pushing back the Taliban, these soldiers, like many others, strove to leave Afghanistan a better place than they found it. With the Taliban driven back, a town the soldiers came to know began to open schools. Those are precious in that they give children a chance to learn all manner of things, including the determination to one day end the wars that have afflicted their country since before their parents were children.
Perhaps Afghans can recognize that they no longer have to live in a tyranny, and that helping them find alternatives was among reasons the Americans took on the Taliban. If, as is expected, the Taliban regain control when the American forces withdraw, perhaps the townspeople can cling to some of the hope and determination to live in peace that the Americans fought for and in too many cases died to bring to them.