Soldier sees good in work in Afghanistan

Tour strengthens resolve
U.S. Army Pfc. James Lifsey, of Augusta, hops over a wall as Ranger, a stray dog, follows along on patrol in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Soldiers in Lifsey's platoon say many of the strays that wander onto the outpost follow the patrols.

James "Danny" Lifsey is in a foreign country, searching for explosives, dodging bullets and missing home.


He couldn't be happier.

Pfc. Lifsey, 19, of Augusta, has had 10 months to adjust to life in Afghanistan, where he is stationed with the U.S. Army. But he still remembers the culture shock the night he first arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.

"It smelled really bad, and it was really hot," Lifsey said by e-mail Wednesday.

More surprises were in store as he set out with his Stryker unit for their first mission. Strykers are versatile, all-terrain, eight-wheeled armored vehicles; Lifsey's job was to provide protection with a grenade launcher.

Lifsey first was struck by the mud homes and the primitive tools the Afghans use. But the locals' kindness knew no cultural boundaries, he said, and they were quick to offer the patrolling soldiers tea and bread. The Afghan National Army was also supportive, he said.

The combination sealed Lifsey's resolve to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban.

"We are doing (what) needs to be done so these people can one day be free of the Taliban and free to go about their day without fear," Lifsey said.

Their mission at this point is to interrupt enemy movement and provide security for Highway 1. Lifsey is now a Stryker driver, although he still spends much of his time dismounted. His calls his time behind the wheel both "fun" and "extremely stressful."

There have been several close calls with improvised explosive devices, but "someone up their (sic) must have been looking out for us," Lifsey wrote.

Lifsey's platoon goes back and forth between two company operations bases. The Taliban attacks the bases regularly, and contact with the enemy is almost guaranteed every time the platoon sets out for the three- to seven-hour patrols.

President Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House on Wednesday and cautioned that the war in Afghanistan will get worse before it improves.

"What I've tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months," Obama said in an Associated Press report.

There are good days and bad days. Lifsey said he enjoys doing humanitarian work with his company, giving out school supplies, balls and candy to children.

Phone calls are a mixed blessing for Lifsey. They give him a chance to catch up on the news back home, but they only emphasize the distance between him and family in Augusta.

A recent Associated Press photo of Lifsey captures him climbing over a wall with a dog named Ranger behind him. Lifsey said Ranger was a pup with the Afghan army, but "I think the dog liked us better."

Ranger sets out on patrols with the rest of Lifsey's platoon and walks up and down the line to make sure everyone is OK.

"He never runs away from a fight, just like us," Lifsey said.

Obama: U.S. on track to bring troops home

WASHINGTON --- President Obama says the U.S. is still on track to begin bringing troops home from Afghanistan in July of next year.

Obama says there have been steady signs of progress since he increased the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan late last year. But he said progress takes time and cautioned that the U.S. must commit to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan.

Speaking during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama said he is in constant discussions with his commanders in Afghanistan about how to execute the troop withdrawal. Karzai is in Washington for a series of meetings this week.

-- Associated Press

Afghan war will get worse before it gets better/5A