Story by Joyce Hensley
When it comes to the war on terror, most of the attention and headlines is focused on the war in Iraq. But the war on terror began in Afghanistan and that's where Hermiston native Andrew Johnston is serving his country.
Johnston is a sergeant with the Army National Guard. In his role, he performs a variety of duties as he serves in "Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan."
A soldier with the 76th Infantry Brigade out of Indiana, he is home on leave from Afghanistan.
Johnston, who heads back to Afghanistan on Tuesday, recently shared his experiences, photos, and a few souvenirs with Bob Carson's fourth grade class at A.C. Houghton last week.
As many as 340 students lined the halls to greet the soldier as Johnston made his way to Carson's classroom.
"I was overwhelmed," he said. "They really reached out to me with their support. It's really nice knowing we have that support."
Johnston lived at Camp Black Horse in the eastern end of the Afghanistan during the first part of his deployment.
"Now I live in Camp Victory in the western end of country," he said.
Johnston's main role is to work as an embedded tactical trainer with the Afghan army. He works with 125 Afghan soldiers.
"This is a win-win situation," he said. "Things are getting stabilized there. A lot of our folks coming home."
He says the Afghan people like the Americans.
"They like what we're doing. They feel more secure," Johnston said. "Before we came, it was against the law for girls to go to school. It was the government rules at the time. Now all girls get to go to school."
He works with coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan, a joint forces endeavor.
Troops from Rumania, Mongolia, Italy, Germany and Canada support Americans who have occupied that country since 2001 when the U.S. military ousted the ruling Taliban forces.
Another role of the soldiers in the predominately Muslim is to stockpile and to destroy old Russian munitions left in the country from the Soviet-Afghanistan war during th 1980s.
"They just left their tanks and MIGs right where they were with gas and ammunition still in them. They are left all over the country," said Johnston. "You could get in them an drive them away."
The joint-force soldiers secured mountain passes during the January inauguration of President Karzai.
Johnston also spends many hours spreading good cheer with children in the country offering them American bubble gum, candy and marbles.
"We're like Afghan TV," Johnston said. "We're their amusement. They gather around us. We have a lot of fun with the kids."
Even though the life of a soldier deployed to Afghanistan is not easy, with 130 degree days, food that always seems to taste of sand, farmer's bazaars for shopping needs, and sometimes living for months on end out of an ?Alice pack' stuffed with everything possible, Johnston is enjoying the adventure.
"I love what I'm doing," he said. "It's been a good experience, a good cultural experience. I'm a pretty rugged type guy. It's been great."
While in Afghanistan, he has tasted the local's way of life no running water, no refrigeration.
"I lived in a mud house for a while, once for 10 days," Johnston said.
Most Afghanis live in isolated villages. Some never leave those villages.
They depend on farming for food.
"Their main staples are nuts, beans, raisins, and flat bread," he said. "They raise great fruitgreat watermelons."
Afghans also raise a lot of goats and sheep.
"Folks in little villages live off the land whatever they can produce. The bare necessities," Johnston said.
Only taxi drivers operate cars.
"There are no private cars," he said. "Most don't travel unless they have to. Then they use donkeys and carts."
To heat their mud huts Afghans use weeds such as tumble weeds.
"When children are on their winter break, they spend three months, all day every day, collecting weeds to heat their homes," Johnston said.
Females still cover their faces after the age of 8 or 10.
"In nine months I never saw a face of a woman except for coalition," Johnston said.
His tour will come to an end mid-August of 2005, but, he is considering re-upping.
"I'll be round for a while until they make me leave," he said. "I'm excited about it."