LORAIN — After nine months riding in convoys in Afghanistan, Stephen Sturgill, a Lorain Schools assistant superintendent, is looking forward to returning to work Oct. 21.
“It’ll be exciting,” said Sturgill, a captain in the Ohio Army National Guard’s Piqua-based 1487th Transportation Co. “Back to some normalcy.”
Sturgill commanded a 158-member company deployed to Kandahar Airfield, in Kandahar, Afghanistan between January and September. Sturgill, who returned to Lorain on Friday, said he participated in 176 convoys carrying equipment to the base. Missions were as short as eight hours and as long as five days, and the company logged more than 176,000 miles.
Sturgill said the convoys, whose protection included drones and helicopters, were never attacked. Nonetheless, the convoys were stressful.
“It’s a very dangerous place,” Sturgill said.
Between the U.S. invasion in 2001 and Oct. 1, 2,143 American soldiers were killed, according to the Department of Defense, and nearly 6,500 Afghan civilians were killed between 2001-12, according to an estimate by The Nation.
The magazine based its statistics on reports from human rights organizations, the media, non-governmental organizations and the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO contingent assisting the U.S. occupation.
None of the company was killed accidentally or in combat, but one soldier committed suicide in the first few months of the deployment.
“Anytime you lose somebody, especially a soldier, it’s very difficult on everybody,” Sturgill said.
Besides emotional stress, soldiers had to deal with inhospitable weather in southeast Afghanistan. Temperatures were as low as 10 degrees in January and as high as 120 in July, according to the airfield website.
The deployment was the third for Sturgill, 41, since enlisting in 1993. The first was stateside in 2003. The second was in Taji, Iraq — about 20 miles north of Baghdad — in 2008-09.
Communications have improved since Sturgill’s Iraq tour, and he regularly spoke by Skype with his wife, Nicole, sons Brandin, 15, Justin, 13, and daughter, Anna, 12. Sturgill also spoke weekly with his father, Bill Sturgill, a school board member.
Sturgill said his son was focused on his mission and didn’t speak much about the school district until the end of his deployment. The elder Sturgill said besides being tough on soldiers, the deployments are difficult on their families.
Besides worrying about their loved ones’ safety, parents and grandparents take on additional responsibilities and children miss their fathers and mothers who are serving.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice,” Bill Sturgill said.
Stephen Sturgill said he plans to retire from the Guard soon and is looking forward to spending more time with his family.
“It’s great to be home,” he said. “It’s a relief.”