For Afghan-Bound Soldiers, A Pep Talk And A Prayer

Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division i i

Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, prepares to speak to his soldiers at the airfield in Fort Campbell, Ky., before they board a transport plane headed for Afghanistan. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division

Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, prepares to speak to his soldiers at the airfield in Fort Campbell, Ky., before they board a transport plane headed for Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR

American troops are heading to Afghanistan for a major offensive this summer, and the 101st Airborne Division is part of the buildup. Late one night a few weeks ago, the first soldiers from the 101st boarded a plane for Kandahar.

They gathered and said goodbye to children and parents, husbands and wives. And in their last moments at Fort Campbell, Ky., they lined up for one more address from their commander, Maj. Gen. John Campbell.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division i i

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division bow their heads during a prayer at their departure ceremony. The 101st is deploying to both eastern and southern Afghanistan for the next year. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division bow their heads during a prayer at their departure ceremony. The 101st is deploying to both eastern and southern Afghanistan for the next year.

David Gilkey/NPR

Campbell told the men that this year and next is the time to turn Afghanistan around. "You guys are going to lead that main effort," he said to the soldiers.

"Twenty years from now, you're going to be sitting in a rocking chair someplace thinking about what you did in 2010 and 2011. You can puff up your chests and say, 'I was in Afghanistan. I was there when Afghanistan turned. I was there when it made a difference.' This is our nation's main effort now," he said.

"You guys are part of a minority. One-half of 1 percent of our nation is doing what you're doing. You've got to feel pretty good about that," he said.

After a prayer, Campbell said he was going to shake every soldier's hand.

"It's important. If we're sending you off to combat, I want to look you in the eyeballs. Look me in the eyes, and let me know you're ready to go," he said.

Campbell and the rest of 101st Airborne Division will join these soldiers in Afghanistan this summer.

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