Sgt. 1st Class Larry Reyes was recovering several years ago from injuries sustained in a tour with the 301st Military Intelligence Battalion that returned from Afghanistan. He and his wife, Michele, were vacationing at the home of his mother, Linda Reyes, in North Port, Fla..
As part of NATO forces in Afghanistan, his unit’s job was to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan civilians by improving their way of life. It’s a daunting experience he says he enjoyed.
His outfit was stationed in Ghazni, a province capital of 30,000 in central Afghanistan, noted for Turkish-built columns and a mosque constructed in the Middle Ages. It has one paved main road through the business center of the community surrounded by dirt streets lined with mud-built homes, each in its own walled compound.
“My job was to try and establish a dialogue with the people. Depending on how comfortable they feel, if we’re lucky, they may open up to us more and more,” Reyes said.
Toward that end, Provincial Reconstruction Teams are located in some of the NATO-controlled fire bases in towns like Ghazni. It’s the job of these teams to determine the services a particular community needs and try to provide them for the locals. Schools and water supply facilities are the two main structures that provincial leaders asked NATO forces to build.
Although the 43-year-old sergeant said he couldn’t express his personal opinion on the war in Afghanistan, he did say he thought NATO forces in the country were providing the people there with a window of opportunity.
Whether they take advantage of it and grow and prosper is another matter.
“I can say from personal experience, when NATO forces are in a village, the villagers’ way of life improves,” Reyes said. “However, the more remote a town is, the more likely there will be insurgents. The likelihood of insurgents’ attacks increases in the spring and summer and decreases in the fall and winter.
“I relate Afghanistan to a bunch of villages controlled by mobsters,” he said. “If you send your police force into the villages, the mobsters go away and the people are safe. But when the police leave, they come back again.”
Three days before his unit was scheduled to leave Afghanistan, he was on patrol in a Humvee when it blew a tire and rolled down an embankment, seriously injuring Reyes . Five days later, he awoke at a hospital in Germany and was sent from there to Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington, D.C.
“A 600-pound door in the Humvee smashed my body and broke most of the bones on my right side,” he said. “I spent the next nine weeks in Walter Reed.
“From the first moment I arrived at the hospital, the staff was awesome. The people attending me were like family. They also provided my wife with everything she needed while staying with me,” Reyes said.
The sergeant is a 1983 graduate of Lemon Bay High School in Englewood, Fla. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army Reserve and for 10 years worked as a Sarasota County sheriff’s deputy.
After 9/11, Reyes ‘ Reserve unit was activated. He spent the next three years on active duty working as a guard at various airbases in Florida. Reyes returned to civilian life in 2004 and went to work for the Las Vegas Police Department. He has been on leave from there since 2007, when he was reactivated and sent to Afghanistan.
He was recently awarded a Bronze Star by the Army for his actions while serving in the war zone.
“The bottom line is, if the people in Afghanistan don’t have a chance for peaceful existences, it’s never going to change. NATO forces open up an opportunity they normally wouldn’t have,” Reyes said. “Will what we’re doing over there work? I don’t know.
“I hope the powers that be have a good idea of where we’re going.”
This story first appeared in Charlotte Sun Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 23, 2009 and is republished with permission.