Andrew Dys

Veterans Day 2012 belongs to area soldiers in Afghanistan, and their families

Today – the 11th day of the 11th month – is the day when all those men and women who fought, and sometimes died, in awful wars that at times were the only way to save freedom, are honored.

Those people deserve it.

Veterans Day is an annual tribute, as important an American holiday as any.

But for 160-plus area families, every day is Veterans Day. Because those 160 men and women of the Rock Hill-based Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers are in Afghanistan today, deployed to a war where they perform the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The job: Route clearance of the most treacherous roads around. Sometimes these soldiers have to walk, with long instruments in hand that can sense bombs, for miles and miles. They walk and they pray that the next step is not the last step.

On Nov. 3, three Army Reserve soldiers from New York who worked with the soldiers of the 178th died after an insurgent attacked their unit with a homemade bomb.

On Thursday in eastern Afghanistan, the men and women of the 178th held a memorial service for those killed in action. The service, in combat, is the one often seen in wars. Called the battlefield cross, it is the fallen soldier’s boots, his rifle and a helmet placed atop the rifle.

There is no husband, father, son holding the rifle, wearing the boots, under the helmet, because he is dead.

Rock Hill’s Lt. Col. Corol Dobson, commander of that unit, wrote to The Herald that the death of those men who worked for him, and for other Rock Hill fathers and sons, was “a sad day for all of us.”

“They are heroes who sacrificed all for a greater good,” said Dobson, who is on his second deployment away from his family.

Every one of those who died, and the Rock Hill men and women over there now, left a regular job, a civilian life and family, to go. For most it is the second time in Afghanistan. Some have been to Iraq and Afghanistan three times.

For a few, it is the fourth deployment since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

There was not a single public tribute to those specific soldiers in Rock Hill this Veterans Day weekend.

On Friday, the city of Rock Hill’s ceremony at the Veterans Wall at Glencairn Garden was called a “Tribute to Veterans.”

Older veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were there. Those great men received greatly earned applause.

But it is 2012.

Just one soldier who had been to Iraq and Afghanistan, a guy named Chris Hoagland of Chester, was there. Hoagland stood in the back and watched.

Hoagland served in the 178th battalion in Iraq and Afghanistan, in charge of scores of young men. His job was simple: Keep those young men alive.

Hoagland and his four sons all went to Iraq or Afghanistan or both. A daughter leaves this week for basic training.

The Rock Hill ceremony made no mention of the words “Iraq” or “Afghanistan.”

Iraq was fought for a decade. Our soldiers and airmen, sailors and Marines – tens of thousands of them – are still fighting in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, eight men and women from York and Chester counties have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Saturday, as the soldiers of the 178th were out on a mission, some of their spouses and kids were at Home Depot. Stockings were filled for the soldiers.

Not with toys or games, but with hand warmers and other stuff Home Depot donated, plus socks and candy and goodies bought with donated dollars, to make the life in the frigid mountains of eastern Afghanistan a little less brutal.

These soldiers will be gone for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They will ring in the new year without noisemakers. No need: The noise around them is constant, noise that comes from gunfire and bomb explosions.

Outside the 178th Rock Hill armory are two trees with yellow ribbons on them. Inside the armory, in the gymnasium, stands a Christmas tree. It has tinsel and presents underneath, but it lacks one thing.

All the deployed fathers and mothers from the 178th are in Afghanistan on Veterans Day and will still be gone when every one of those kids opens Christmas presents.

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