My Last Tour: Soviet Shadows

SMSgt. Temple before the "Queen's Palace"
SMSgt. Temple before the "Queen's Palace"
TAMPA (2009-09-10) -

The Soviet Union waged a 10-year war in Afghanistan leaving behind skeletal remains of burned out tanks and graffiti on palace walls. In our latest conversation with Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple, he describes his journey through those shadowy Soviet remnants of war.

During his most recent mission, SMSgt. Temple took an off-duty hike up a hill to step inside Afghan history. He had done some research and wanted to take a self-guided tour through the hulking ruins of the Queen's Palace.

The soaring stone structure was built in the 1920s. But according to Temple's blog, on December 27, 1979 the palace became a killing ground when 700 Soviets stormed the edifice and executed the president, his family and about 170 body guards.

"It's a very significant landmark," Temple says. "It signifies the start of the Soviet invasion. I toured through the palace and various floors and going up and down the stairs looking at some inscriptions on the wall."

Many of those inscriptions or graffiti were in Russian and Dari. On his blog, Temple noted two written in English.

A NATO soldier inscribed: "One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic Stalin". It's estimated that one million Afghans died during the Soviet occupation.

The other quoted Plato: "Only the dead will see the end of the war."

Despite those chilling quotes and being surrounded by the remnants of the Soviet occupation, Temple does not worry that the United States and NATO forces could meet similar fates.

"Because America can't afford for us to lose this war," Temple says. "You know I understand we're losing public support for this war. But they have to understand if we pull out the Taliban is going to win, the insurgents are going to win and they're going to resume power. If that happens, they can threaten the U.S. So, we're not going to let that happen."

There's rumored to be a tunnel between the Queen's Palace and the King's Palace sitting on a neighboring hill. The King's Palace is name Darulaman which means "abode of peace". And ironically, the king's "palace of peace" is off limits.

Closer to Temple's home base, is a graveyard of rusting Soviet tanks, personnel carriers and other equipment. And again, he hiked the area capturing the hulking ruins with his camera.

"Every time I find something historical like that I try to imagine what was this used for how and when used?" Temple says. "I can only imagine the wrath and what they unleashed on the Afghan populace when they were fighting the mujahedeen."

Temple's mission is to mentor Afghan National Army forces so they can fight the Taliban. But, he's also battling on a personal front. Temple started a school supply drive through his blog asking for donations of pens, paper and other items that Afghan teachers and students do not have.

"Every pen that we send to Afghanistan is a sword in the Taliban's heart," Temple says.

So far, Temple says he is "amazed" by the response.

WUSF is following Temple during his year-long deployment in Afghanistan.

To learn more about Temple's School Supplies Drive click here.

To hear other stories with Temple and view photographs from Afghanistan click here.

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