At Kamp Holland near Tarin Kowt, the Dutch are mourning the loss of a second soldier: 44-year-old Sergeant Major Jos Leunissen, who died in a mortar accident during combat with Taliban forces around the town of Chura on Monday. I’m not attending the memorial service; I attended last week’s service for Private 1st Class Timo Smeehuyzen in addition to many other services in my three years as a war correspondent — and I’ve seen too many grown men cry. Besides, I’ve got work to do, work I think is important, work I hope contributes in some small way to victory — whatever that means — in our wars against terrorists.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense has been fairly rattled by the two deaths. And judging by all the frantic emails I’m getting from Dutch newspapers and radio programs, the public is pretty shaken, too. I would never question the courage and resolve of the Dutch soldiers fighting this battle; but the folks back home in The Netherlands seem ready to call it quits and withdraw inside their own borders. As if that were really possible in this globalized world.
The Netherlands could take a lesson from Army Captain Ken Dwyer, a former classmate of mine from Furman University. Dwyer did three tours in Afghanistan with the Special Forces — and in the last, took an RPG hit that severed his left arm and destroyed his left eye. (He is pictured receiving his Purple Heart from Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne in November.) Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry had this to say about Dwyer during a recent interview with CNN:
I’d like to say after 21 months in Afghanistan, with regard to the courage and bravery of our armed forces, just a quick vignette, if I could, to give an illustration of who is serving in Afghanistan right now on point for our nation. Captain Ken Dwyer, Special Forces captain, three tours of duty in Afghanistan. His most recent tour of duty ended in August of 2006 as a special forces captain fighting in interior Afghanistan.He was hit with an RPG-7 round. He lost his arm from the elbow down. He lost his left eye. I visited Ken about three months ago at Walter Reed Hospital. Ken, from Colombia, South Carolina, married, two sons.
When I saw him at Walter Reed with his arm now gone, with his left eye taken out, I saw Ken working out on a treadmill. I walked up to him. He’s trying to get his balance back. I asked if there was anything I could do for him.
He had three questions for me, Wolf. The first was, how’s my team doing in special forces? (inaudible) he was worried about them. Second was, how are the Afghan people doing in that area where I was trying to work to extend governance to those people and bring them a better life? And then the third question he had was, could I give him any help in going to be assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, the special forces school.
He said, with the loss of my arm, with my eye, I can’t return to combat duty. But I’ve learned a lot and I want to help teach other Army officers and non-commissioned officers and special-forces soldiers about the fight in Afghanistan.
That’s the kind of people that we’ve got in our armed forces, men and women that are serving on point for the United States of America. And that’s why, Wolf, that I’m confident that we’re going to prevail in Afghanistan, because of people like Ken Dwyer.
Sorry to geek out on you, but Dwyer’s attitude reminds of the final scene of Joss Whedon’s awesome vampire-detective-noir TV series Angel, wherein our hero and his surviving comrades (pictured), having confronted the forces of darkness and lost many friends in the fighting, stare down an approaching army of giants, dragons and demons. Hefting an axe, sizing up impossible odds, Angel tells his team, “Let’s go to work.”
The Netherlands: you’ve suffered. But your losses don’t diminish the importance of our mission in Afghanistan. So do like Dwyer and Angel: pick up your axe, face those monsters, and get back to work.