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Paratroopers Return to Witness Afghan Transformation

By Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Oct. 7, 2004 – Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, including 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan in July 2002 to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

During their six-month deployment, they conducted combat operations, eliminating significant numbers of Taliban, al-Qaeda and other anti-coalition militants from Afghanistan.

Now these paratroopers are back, this time to maintain a stable environment throughout the presidential election process.

"The last time we were here, we were air-assaulting into mountain villages," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Lacortiglia, Company B squad leader. "They were just starting to conduct (village) assessments."

"We initially provided base security and a (quick-reaction force)," said Spc. Joshua Rogers. Both missions helped to weed out anti-coalition militants, laying the groundwork for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

Now with an Afghanistan deployment and an eight-month deployment to Iraq under their belts, the paratroopers will be able to witness the changes their initial hard work produced.

Since they left Afghanistan, millions of dollars have been spent on educational improvements throughout the country. Since January alone, the coalition has helped with construction or repair of more than 100 schools for both girls and boys.

"It will be nice to see improvements in their education system," said Staff Sgt. Tim Wehner, another Company B squad leader.

More important, however, are the improvements in stability that have led up to the election. "We rarely get to see the big picture at our level," said Lacortiglia. "Now we're getting to see how everything we did the first time around built up to this."

Two years ago, Afghanistan was a long way from a democratic society. With the help of the coalition, both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police have taken active roles in providing security throughout the country. This has allowed the coalition to put a greater focus on reconstruction. Together, the security and reconstruction efforts helped the country progress to the point of its first democratic election.

"Hopefully, the example we've set here in Afghanistan will help to stabilize other countries like Iraq who are facing the same issues Afghanistan used to face," said Wehner.

"What we've accomplished here can provide credibility to others," said Lacortiglia. "We've shown that we are doing good and helping this country."

(Army Sgt. Stephanie L. Carl is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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