Archive for Monday, January 19, 2009

Front line intelligence: Lawrence soldiers assess Iraq, Afghanistan

Alex Benson, 21, left, and Dan Affalter Jr., 28, serve in separate units in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division and are both home on leave from serving in Iraq. Both say they have seen signs of progress, but aren’t sure whether Iraqis are ready to have a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Alex Benson, 21, left, and Dan Affalter Jr., 28, serve in separate units in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division and are both home on leave from serving in Iraq. Both say they have seen signs of progress, but aren’t sure whether Iraqis are ready to have a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

January 19, 2009


In 2006, Army Sgt. Danny Affalter’s armored Humvee was hit 15 times by improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Vehicles in his convoy were hit more than 30 times by IEDs.

“There were some roads we went on where we just knew it was going to happen,” said Affalter, a 2002 Free State High School graduate.

Affalter was once knocked unconscious by an explosion but never sought treatment beyond his unit’s medic. Most of the time he took a couple of Tylenol and went on.

Affalter, 25, is now on his second tour of duty in Iraq, and things have changed for the better. IED explosions are rare, and combat has declined dramatically in just a couple of years, he said.

“It’s 10 times quieter than when I was there in 2006. Quite a change,” he said.

Army Spec. Alex Benson, 21, also from Lawrence, is on his first tour in Iraq, as a combat medic. Nearly all of the wounds he’s treated were suffered by Iraqi civilians.

“A lot of it has been burns or accidents from their work or whatever they were doing. Some minor trauma stuff,” said Benson, a 2005 Free State graduate.

Affalter and Benson talked about their experiences while home visiting family and friends during a recent 18-day leave of absence from Iraq. They serve in separate units in the 4th Infantry Division.

Afghanistan more violent

Contrary to Iraq, the U.S. military says violence is increasing in Afghanistan. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Anderson of Lawrence saw a steady increase in violence when he was in that country in 2007 and 2008 with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Before going to Afghanistan, Anderson had already served two tours in Iraq. The insurgent fighters in Iraq were no comparison with the Taliban in Afghanistan, he said. Iraqi insurgents didn’t like to confront U.S. soldiers, Anderson said during a recent phone interview from Fort Bragg, N.C. Not so the Taliban.

“They are well-organized. They know what they are doing,” said Anderson, 23, a 2003 Lawrence High School graduate. “They do not back down from American soldiers whatsoever.”

Afghans in rural areas fear the Taliban, Anderson said.

What would it take to reverse the situation in Afghanistan? Anderson isn’t sure. “The (troop) surge worked in Iraq. Possibly it would work in Afghanistan. I don’t know,” he said.

Progress in Iraq

American soldiers work closely with Iraqi army and police units now, Affalter and Benson said. Iraqis accompany Americans on patrols, searches and raids, they said.

“We try to let them do most of the work now,” Affalter said. “We stand back and help them when they need it and coach them along.”

Iraqi forces have improved, but Affalter and Benson don’t think they are ready to do it all themselves. Some Iraqi civilians privately tell Americans that they don’t want them to leave, Affalter and Benson said.

Civilians are able to pass on information to U.S. soldiers anonymously through tips phone hot lines similar to those police use in American cities. They also can send information by text message and e-mail.

“That’s where we get a lot of our intelligence,” Benson said.

Developing relationships with civilians and conducting civic operations also has helped win over Iraqi civilians, Affalter and Benson said. Thanks to Emprise Bank in Lawrence, Affalter has received hundreds of dollars in school supplies such as pens, paper and crayons, which he has passed on to schools or Iraqi children. The Kaw Valley Soccer Association donated 40 soccer balls to give children.

“If we can win the kids’ hearts and minds — they’re our biggest intel,” Affalter said. “When you were a kid you always knew what was going on on your block.”

Future tours of duty

Affalter recently signed up for another four years in the Army. When he returns from Iraq he will be trained as a recruiter. Eventually, Affalter said, he might leave the Army and follow in his father’s footsteps and become a police officer. Capt. Dan Affalter recently retired after a 32-year career with the Lawrence Police Department.

Benson has another two years in his enlistment and then he plans to return to civilian life. A former volunteer with the Wakarusa Township Fire Department, Benson wants to further his medical studies and become a nurse.

Anderson, who lives with his wife, Brittani, and their 3-year-old son, Aiden, at Fort Bragg, expects to return to Afghanistan, possibly this summer. It will be is fourth combat tour and he admits being weary of frequent deployments.

“I like what I do but I need a break,” he said. “I’d like to back off of deployments for a couple of years. It’s just really hard.”

A lot of experienced soldiers have left the Army, and Anderson said he also has considered leaving or transferring to another Army job.

“For me,” he said, “I’m having a hard time going and getting another job because I’ve got a lot of guys here and I don’t want to leave them hanging out.”


mommy24 9 years, 3 months ago

Thanks so much for serving and protecting us! You both are in our prayers!

bizarre 9 years, 3 months ago

Now that O'bama is in office, things are going to change. Thank-you for your service.

NoSpin 9 years, 3 months ago

You are great Americans. Thank you for telling the public about what is really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do not believe CNN,MSNBC or the like. Our soldiers are the only ones who should be reporting the war not a biased commentator. Again, thank you for your service, patriots.

Jd Finch 9 years, 3 months ago

I don't see any connection to Vietnam, Walter.

jaywalker 9 years, 3 months ago

Many thanks and unending appreciation for your service, gentleman. You are great Americans.Log's "lie" that in that last sentence was the "million dead Iraqi civilians". I refuse to stomach reading all his dreck, just scanned to the end to find that crappola. Proves reading it all is a waste of time.

notajayhawk 9 years, 3 months ago

Isn't it amazing that logrithmic has a better understanding of the situation from Mommy's basement than these guys who've been there.Thanks, guys, and to all the others who have served honorably. Don't worry too much about such kooks who spew about being forced to commit atrocities and war crimes - luckily, nobody takes them seriously.

shuson 9 years, 3 months ago

That's "Too Tall" - my nephew! He's 25 years old, 6'7" and we couldn't be more proud of him. We love you Danny!

vjwalthall 9 years, 3 months ago

Dear God... people... when did this article become about you? The fact is, war of some kind will always be in this world. Whether it's simple small town crap, or nation to nation. Many do not support the war. I understand that. But it is important to support the men and women and their families that are serving.So quit. Shut up. And just say a prayer for strength, endurance, mental readiness and peace within. Pray that they come back home. "Steadfast and Loyal"- Alex's mom...

Kmunchoff 9 years, 3 months ago

Thank you, Val! Alex, Danny, we all love you so much and thank you for everything that you do. Come home safely to us, you guys are almost done. Xoxo

Danimal 9 years, 3 months ago

From one Iraq vet to another, thanks for serving guys, unfortunately Logrithmic thinks we're all war criminals.

bigd399 9 years, 3 months ago

There is discipline in A Soldieryou can see it when he walks, There is honor in A Soldieryou hear it when he talks.There is courage in A Soldieryou can see it in his eyes, There is loyalty in A Soldierthat he will not compromise.There is something in A Soldierthat makes him stand apart, There is strength in A Soldier that beats from his heart.A Soldier isn't a title any man can be hired to do, A Soldier is the soul of that manburied deep inside of you.A Soldier's job isn't finished afteran 8 hour day or a 40 hour week, A Soldier is always A Soldiereven while he sleeps.A Soldier serves his country firstand his life is left behind, A Soldier has to sacrifice what comes first in a civilian's mind.If you are civilian -I am saying this to time you see A Soldierremember what they do.A Soldier is the reason our landis 'Home of the free', A Soldier is the one that is brave protecting you and me.If you are A Soldier -I am saying this to you.....Thank God for EVERY SOLDIERThank God for what YOU do!

Leslie Swearingen 9 years, 3 months ago

Logrithmic never said that every soldier is a war criminal, but some are and that needs to be dealt with.Some officers are total idiots and some are intelligent, competent and have respect for the men who serve under them.Warfare seems to have come full circle and once again it is up close and personal.

bigd399 9 years, 3 months ago

A Soldiers PoemFor all the free people that still protest.You're welcome. We protect you and you are protected by the best.Your voice is strong and loud, but who will fight for you?No one standing in your crowd.We are your fathers, brothers, and sons,wearing the boots and carrying guns.We are the ones that leave all we own,to make sure your future is carved in stone.We are the ones who fight and die,We might not be able to save the world, Well, at least we try.We walked the paths to where we are atand we want no choice other than that.So when you rally your group to complain,take a look in the back of your brain.In order for that flag you love to flywars must be fought and young men must die.We came here to fight for the ones we hold dear.If that's not respected, we would rather stay here.So please stop yelling, put down your signs,and pray for those behind enemy lines.When the conflict is over and all is well,be thankful that we chose to go through hell.

MsBliss 9 years, 3 months ago

A body of persons organized for the advancement of a cause: definition of army. Thank you Danny, Alex, et al for all that you do --- I am so very proud.Yellow ribbons until the end,Too Tall's aunt

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