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General Pulls Guard Duty as Holiday Gift for Soldiers

By Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA and Journalist 1st Cl
Special to American Forces Press Service

WAZA KHWA, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2004 – Service members stationed across Afghanistan celebrated the holiday season in a number of different ways, but Army Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, Combined Joint Task Force 76 commander, decided to give two soldiers a very special holiday gift.

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Army Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, talks to soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment on Christmas Day in Waza Khwa, Afghanistan, following a patrol through several nearby villages. Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA

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Olson left Bagram Airfield to relieve two soldiers of their daily duties for 24 hours, while the soldiers flew to Bagram to enjoy some of the comforts they generally are not afforded.

"Waza Khwa is one of the more remote and less developed fire bases," Olson said. "I thought if there were any soldiers who could use a good break by switching with me for a day in Bagram, Waza Khwa was a good place to find them."

Spc. Freddy Barahona, 22, and Spc. Michael Hanes, 21, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division (Light) as infantrymen in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, briefly met and talked with Olson before departing for Bagram.

"Burger King was our first stop when we arrived," said Barahona, a native of Antioch, Calif. "It was great to be able to spend Christmas relaxing, watching some football, picking up a few items at the PX and being able to eat something that reminds us of home."

Barahona and Hanes recently re-enlisted because they feel what they are doing is important, and because they enjoy their jobs.

"There are a lot of reasons why I chose to re-enlist. A lot of it was pride in what we are all doing out here," said Hanes, a native of Cochranton, Pa. "It is sometimes really tough to deal with certain things on a daily basis out here in Afghanistan. But there are many rewards, both big and small. Major General Olson giving us the opportunity to enjoy some free time, talk to our families and relax was a big reward for the both of us."

Olson spent his Christmas holiday accompanying several Company C soldiers on a patrol to two nearby villages following Christmas dinner and a brief tour of the base.

"It's always good to get out, show presence in the local community, interact with some of the community leaders, and that's exactly what these guys are doing," Olson said. "There's always risk when you do it, but these guys are absolutely unafraid of accepting that risk. They know it's a job that they've got to do."

While on the patrol, Olson accompanied the soldiers by riding in the back of a cargo Humvee rather than being escorted in an up-armored version. He joked and talked with the soldiers throughout the patrol and was constantly waving to Afghan children, who gathered along the roads.

Spc. Eric Rigsby, an M240B gunner with Company C, was the gunner on Olson's Humvee and said Olson was talking and joking with the soldiers throughout the mission. He said the fact Olson chose to spend the holiday at such a remote location says a lot, since he came here even though he doesn't have to.

"To show the guys he has done this before, to sit in a cav truck in one of the worst seats and ride with us, to come and pull guard with us, to sit here and eat chow with us -- it really makes lower enlisted soldiers like myself feel good about him as our leader," Rigsby said.

Following the patrol, Olson gathered the soldiers and told them all what a fine job they were doing and that he loved each and every one of them.

"The quality of soldiers here is top-notch, just like we see across (Afghanistan)," he said. "This is a great battalion, a great company in that battalion, and they're just doing super things out here."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, talks to soldiers during Christmas dinner at Waza Khwa, Afghanistan. Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Freddy Barahona, left, and Army Spc. Michael Hanes enjoy their Christmas at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kristin Fitzsimmons, USN  
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