My Last Tour: Returning to Base

Inside a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane headed into Afghanistan.
Inside a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane headed into Afghanistan.
TAMPA (2009-12-28) -

Tampa airman Rex Temple returned to Afghanistan after two weeks on leave spent with his wife in Germany. The senior master sergeant's return trip to the war zone required a lot of patience and caused him some concern.

Somewhere between Frankfurt Germany and Kuwait, the airline lost Senior Master Sgt. Temple’s luggage. It meant that Temple spent Christmas alone in Kuwait, not like he’d planned with his “team” in Afghanistan.

On Sunday night, Temple finally flew out of Kuwait on a C-17 Globemaster to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. That’s where Temple encountered several soldiers who had just finished their year tour and were headed back to the United States.

“I’m really surprised at some of the opinions and some of the bitterness that they hold,” Temple said. “Our motto here is winning their hearts and minds. But for some of these soldiers they’re like “yeah, two in the heart and one in the mind” - meaning two bullets in the heart and one in the mind. And some of them are leaving here very bitter.”

Yet, Temple understood their frustration. The soldiers had spent a year in Afghanistan, yet hadn’t seen any change. “Everybody wants change right now today. And it’s not going to happen. You have to establish relationships with these tribes with the tribal elders and its going to take time and we’re just so used to having results right away.”

For the most part, Temple said it was younger soldiers who were discontent.

“I tried to talk to them and say ‘hey look, I’ve been out in these villages, I’ve seen the difference,’” Temple said. “But it’s just winning one village at a time. And you just have to be patient. You have to trust our leadership and the COIN strategy and everything that we’re doing.”

COIN stands for the Counter Insurgency strategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal focused on winning support from villagers with humanitarian projects and incentives.

“These guys were stationed right on the Afghan-Pakistan border. They saw a lot of action. They lost troops from their command and they hold a lot of bitterness,” Temple said. “I really don’t think they understand this COIN philosophy. And I believe it comes with maturity you have to be patient and that’s something even for the American public, that’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Temple believes the frontline soldiers he met would be more supportive if they had an opportunity to experience meeting tribal elders or sitting in on village councils.

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