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V.I. Guardsmen Fight Afghan Climate as Well as War

May 16, 2004, at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan – The son of a St. Thomas woman and the son of two other St. Thomas residents both say you have to pack heavy when leaving home to go fight the war on terrorism in this country. The climate they're in is bitterly cold, snowy and icy during the winter, while in the summer, it's just the opposite — like living in a convection oven infested with vipers and cobras.
You'll also need the tools of the trade — sleeping bag, assault rifle, ammunition, body armor, helmet and everything else you need to take out terrorists and former Taliban loyalists bent on your destruction.
Army National Guard Sgt. Marcus R. Defoe, son of Flora Francis, Anna's Retreat, and Army National Guard Spec. Kareem Henley, son of Ralph Henley Jr. and Doreen D. Donovan, both of St. Thomas, live at the eye of the storm in the war on terror as unsung members of Coalition Joint Task Force 180, the lead military agency for operations in Afghanistan.
Some service members arrive here and never go beyond the concertina wire perimeter because their work revolves around supporting the people who do leave the wire to rebuild in Afghanistan or to destroy holdout Taliban and Al Qaeda henchmen from a string of fire bases along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Each task force member contributes specific talents to the mission, said Defoe, who is a utility engineer with the 631st Engineer Detachment at the airfield.
"We build and provide electrical, plumbing, carpentry and maintenance to all of the fire bases," said the 1990 graduate of Dominica Grammar School. "The most difficult aspects of my duties are the scarce availability of construction materials, construction equipment and the weather."
Henley, a carpentry and masonry team member with the 631st, said his specialty is building and repairing the base and the housing for other soldiers. Henley is a 1996 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School who, when he's not deployed with the Guard, works security at the V.I. Territorial Court. "Sometimes the weather really becomes a challenge to try and get construction work done in," he said.
Located 15 miles from the city of Kandahar, this airfield is one of the most remote, landlocked and desolate places where the Army has ever tried to build a combat base. But it makes for a perfect hub for the coalition to go on missions into the mountains to battle the Taliban or perform reconstruction projects that range from digging a well for a village to setting the stage for national elections and ratifying a constitution.
Some troops helm firing bases with names like Shkin, Gardez and Oulet — areas Soviet invaders wouldn't even go into against the mujahadeen 23 years ago — while others provide support in the form of supply, transportation, food or recreation services. Everyone here brings something special to get to the end game in Afghanistan, Defoe said.
"The service we do enables the guys who risk their lives every day to live comfortably," he said. "We make sure that they have power to their tents, warm showers and a comfortable place to stay while they are in Afghanistan."
Henley said his job contributes to the mission by repairing and fixing buildings and housing. "I do this so that others can feel comfortable while they serve their country," he added.
Most of the service members at the camp live in a tent city — complete with limited Internet access — built over a former Taliban minefield that was carefully cleared several months ago. But there aren't even tents at the forward fire bases – just sleeping bags, mountain ice, thin air and drastic temperature changes for the service members to deal with.
"I expected worse conditions when I first got here in September, but overall the living conditions aren't that bad," Defoe said. "We have heaters and cool air in the tents, and warm showers. I would say for the location, it's pretty decent."
Henley made known his preference for warmer climates, "It was cold this winter. We don't have weather like this in the Virgin Islands."
Defoe, Henley and their fellow service members packed heavy to battle the elements of this harsh country, along with a mix of anti-coalition militia that includes Taliban, Al Qaeda, Chechen, Turk and Chinese terrorists. Judging from the results, they packed just right for the job.

Editor's note: This article was prepared in March 2004 by John B. Dendy IV for the Army and Air Force Hometown News.

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