LORAIN — They disarmed 20 bombs in Afghanistan, but the leader of the 837th Engineering Co., of the Ohio Army National Guard said unit members weren’t heroes.
Company commander Capt. Chad Apple said the heroes were the 2,154 American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan War through Sunday. Apple told about 800 people at a Monday homecoming ceremony at Lorain High School that those soldiers died defending freedom.
“Freedom is never a generation away from extinction,” he said. “It must be fought for, protected, and handed down to the next generation for them to do the same.”
The 94-member Grove Street-based unit arrived in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan on April 24 and departed Dec. 1. It patrolled nearly 8,100 miles looking for bombs to detonate or defuse, according to the Guard. On three occasions, Apple said exploding bombs damaged the unit’s vehicles, but all members returned from duty uninjured.
Brigadier Gen. John Harris, Ohio Army National Guard commander, said the unit’s find/clear ratio of 85 percent was above the 65 percent average for units in comparable conditions. Harris said since the war began in 2001 he has agonized over the thought of men under his command being killed. He praised the courage of unit members and combat soldiers in general.
“We sleep well in our beds at night because rough men are willing to do violence on our behalf,” Harris said, paraphrasing a perspective offered by English author George Orwell in some of his World War II-era essays.
Apple said after the ceremony that the war has improved conditions for Afghans. He supports the Obama administration’s proposal to keep up to 12,000 soldiers in Afghanistan through 2024 after most troops withdraw in 2014.
“It definitely is a different country,” he said. “There’s still violence, just like here, but certainly things have improved.”
Besides what he said were improving conditions in Afghanistan, Apple said he was grateful that everyone in the unit returned uninjured.
“Thanks for bringing my son home,” a woman told him after the ceremony.
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