View Full Version : Shippensburg soldier visits family during break from Afghanistan

11-02-08, 07:25 AM
Shippensburg soldier visits family during break from Afghanistan

By Dale Heberlig, Sentinel Reporter, November 1, 2008

Last updated: Sunday, November 2, 2008 8:09 AM EST
Army Sgt. Richard Tarner has another date with dangerous Afghanistan in a few days, but not before he completes an 18-day stint of R-and-R — alternating visits with his family in Shippensburg and his fiancee in Texas.

He returned to Shippensburg Oct. 21 and left for Texas Monday, returning to Shippensburg Friday.

The 38-year-old Shippensburg High School graduate is on leave from a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan. He calls the tour his third war and says he hopes it’s his last.

Tarner did eight months in the first Gulf War in 1991 as a Marine, then took part in the initial invasion of the Iraqi War in 2003 after mustering out of the Marines and enlisting in the Army.

Dangerous locale

Afghanistan is shaping up as his most perilous assignment. He started his tour there in July and was wounded in August by a 60 mm mortar round.

“I was lucky to get just a flesh wound,” Tarner says. “The mortar went off about 25 feet behind me. I took five pieces of shrapnel, one in the leg. My helmet and vest caught the rest.”

A quick examination by Tarner and his first sergeant convinced them the wound was not serious.

“It bled a lot, but we just bandaged it up, and I went back to work the next day,” Tarner says.

Work for Tarner is a traffic control post in the Korengal Valley about 17 miles northeast of Bagram Air Base.

Tarner says his checkpoint monitors Afghani residents who use the road that traverses the Korengal Valley — a place described as Afghanistan’s deadliest terrain earlier this year in a Vanity Fair article.

Tarner says the U.S. military has adopted a different approach recently, reducing the number of forays into territory held by the Taliban insurgency and taking a waiting posture.

“Since it’s turned into a peacekeeping mission, we’re more in the defensive mode, using the hearts-and-minds approach,” Tarner says.

He says the strategy may be short-lived.

“They’re trying this out to see if it works,” he says. “Trying to be nice to get them to cooperate, but it’s giving them space to train and learn our style. I think the generals know we’ll have to chase them into Pakistan sooner or later, and we’re building up for that.”

Mountain area

The Korengal Valley is isolated and mountainous, Tarner says, dotted with small trees and small villages of a few hundred people.

“They sympathize with the Taliban for the most part, because they’re not informed about what’s going on,” Tarner says.

He calls the valley and the towering mountain ridges that surround it “the last hideout for the Taliban or anyone else who wants to fight us.”

“They’re on their last breath,” he adds. “If we advanced and fought a front-line war with them, it would be over quickly.”

Arduous duty

Patrols are much less frequent, and Tarner says it’s been a few months since he’s drawn the arduous duty of probing the perimeter for the enemy.

The rigors of patrol are fresh in his mind, though.

“It’s usually a hike of two to four miles, mostly uphill,” he says. “The terrain really wears you down, especially when your ammunition and protective gear weigh 35 pounds.”

He says the physical exertion and efforts to breathe at 15,000 feet elevation drains GIs more than the threat of hostile fire.

When U.S. forces draw fire, Tarner says, the response is swift and decisive. He says enemy radio frequencies are monitored to predict or sniff out ambushes. Artillery or mortar fire and attack helicopters are the typical weapons of choice for response.

U.S. advances in Afghanistan are “tremendous,” he says, and the military has established “terrific allies.”

Positive views

Tarner says conversations with Afghani translators paint positive pictures of life in the city.

“They say the people in the cities really appreciate the Americans,” he says. “That it’s so peaceful they don’t know there’s a war going on.”

Despite the advances, life remains perilous in Afghanistan’s hinterlands.

“People are still dying, mostly by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and if the enemy gets lucky, by shooting us,” Tarner says.

He says the use of improvised explosive devices is on the rise in Afghanistan.

Family visit

Tarner’s sisters — Judy Knox and Ellen Lake — look forward to some time together with their brother before he returns to duty.

“We haven’t had much time to talk,” Lake says. “He’s had so many places to run and so many people to see, including his kids. We hope to talk before he leaves. I just want the war to be over.”

Knox says the hardship doesn’t diminish the family’s pride in Tarner.

“We’re very proud of him,” she says. “He re-enlisted during the war, and that’s something to be proud of. We’re very concerned, too. There’s a lot of danger over there, but he doesn’t tell us much.”