Every Saturday, 87-year-old Estelle Margolis stands vigil on the Post Road bridge. Here she was on February 1:
The other day, she wrote “06880”:
The sign breaks my heart. These “kids” are coming home with no way to deal with normal life. Their “family” is the troops they served with, and many want to go right back. We are not paying attention in this society to what I consider drastic social problems.
The Veterans Administration is overwhelmed by the needs of the returning vets. Not only the physically harmed, but the psychologically damaged. I saw a stat that the Department of Defense is dealing with over 400,000 vets in need, and they cannot handle it. There are many more now.
Where are we putting our money? “Petty cash” on Karzai’s desk every week? Making new weapons to kill people? Over 8,000 vets a year killing themselves, and those are only the ones we know about. Add that to the troops still getting killed in Afghanistan. Tragic!
I don’t feel like I can do enough to make a difference. The message does get out to some motorists passing me on the bridge every Saturday morning. But only between 11 and 11:30 a.m. I can do better, but only in good weather.
Where are the college kids protesting? Where are the Mothers for Peace? Where are the news stories about these hideous statistics? Where are the debates in Congress?
I am the mother of every one of those incredibly courageous troops. They never could believe they would die in their 20s. Better believe it!
And then, last April — in a journey far from typical for a young Westporter — Andrew went to Afghanistan.
1st Lieutenant Andrew Long, in Afghanistan.
“He was always interested in the military,” his mother Sandra explains. “As a kid, he was really into the Civil War.”
She thinks 9/11 influenced him greatly. “He was in 10th grade at the time. From then on, he thought about serving in the military all through college. We were at war, and he wanted to help.”
The Longs were not thrilled.
“We’re not a military family, and that’s not what most Westport kids do,” Sandra says. “We were worried. But he was adamant. So we said ‘We support you. We love you.'”
Now, Sandra says, “We’re so proud of him. He is so brave, dedicated and patriotic.”
In Afghanistan Andrew was posted to a forward operating base 50 miles west of Kandahar.
Part of the famed 1st Infantry Division — “The Big Red One” — Andrew served mostly as a maneuver platoon leader, with a combination of armor and infantry men. They used vehicles, went on foot patrol, and did a number of air assault missions with helicopters. Sometimes, he commanded Afghan soldiers.
“He’s amazingly versatile,” Sandra says proudly.
The Longs did not know much about what he was doing. They spoke every 3 or 4 weeks by phone, for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
1st Lieutenant Andrew Long (left), with his tank crew.
“He talked about the great poverty in Afghanistan — mud huts, no water or electricity,” she says. “Sometimes things were very quiet. Other times, during missions, it was wild.”
The hardest part, he told his mother, were when members of his unit were killed.
“I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff I don’t know,” she notes.
On Christmas Eve, Andrew called his parents. “I’m coming home,” he said.
1st Lieutenant Andrew Long returns to Ft. Riley.
When he returned to Fort Riley, Kansas earlier this month, it was with a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service. The Longs were there to greet him.
After spending some leave time in Westport, Andrew will return to Fort Riley.
It won’t be forever. Sandra says he will not make the military his career. He has, however, “certainly appreciated” his service.
A portion of the crowd -- primarily Staples students -- protesting the Viet Nam war in 1969. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
For nearly 10 years, America’s all-volunteer military has fought 2 costly, controversial wars.
Protests have been muted. A few people stand on the Post Road bridge every Saturday morning. Someone writes an occasional letter to the editor.
At Staples, high school students — few of whom even think of serving — scarcely give Iraq and Afghanistan a passing thought.
How different things were in 1969. Vietnam was a quagmire — and Westport was up in arms, on both sides of the issue. Loud anti-war protests took place at Town Hall every Saturday. After 3 hours of raucous debate the RTM passed — 17-15 — a resolution asking immediate action to withdraw from Southeast Asia.
Many Staples students — though certainly not all — were fervently anti-war. On October 15, 1200 students — joined by some from the 3 junior highs — celebrated a national Moratorium Day.
They — actually “we,” because I was among them — marched from the Staples tennis courts, down North Avenue and Long Lots Road, all the way to the steps of the YMCA.
The long line of marchers headed downtown. The A&P was near what is now the firehouse; the Esso gas station is now a Phillips 66. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
We carried American flags and wore buttons saying “Peace Now” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go.” Along the way, other students threw eggs at us.
At the Y, we listened to speeches (including one by Iowa Senator Harold Hughes). We waved our fingers in the peace sign. We looked around, and were stunned at our numbers.
A year earlier, we had helped drive Lyndon Johnson from the presidency — but our new president was Richard Nixon. Finally, in 1973, a peace treaty was signed. Two years later the last Americans were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy roof.
In 1969, Adrian Hlynka was a Staples student. A gifted photographer, he took dozens of shots on Moratorium Day. Here is what it looked like to protest a war, more than 4 decades ago.
A portion of the crowd in front of the Y. The Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware) was showing "Alice's Restaurant" and "Medium Cool." Police stood on the roof next door. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
More of the enormous downtown crowd. The current Max's Art Supplies is on the extreme left; what is now Tiffany is at the far right. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
Rabbi Byron Rubenstein of Temple Israel addresses the crowd from the steps of the Y. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
The crowd was predominantly -- though not entirely -- made up of Staples students. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
A Staples student states his case. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
Junior high students joined Stapleites at the 1969 Moratorium rally. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)
With few exceptions, Westporters are far removed from the war in Afghanistan. We don’t know anyone serving there, and because the news involves bombs and indecipherable local feuds — not the more familiar finance and entertainment — we easily ignore it.
LTC Tania Chacho
With few exceptions, Tania Chacho’s working life revolves around Afghanistan. A lieutenant colonel who served in peacekeeping and stabilization efforts all over the world, she now directs the comparative politics program at West Point. Soon after graduating, many of her students end up in Afghanistan.
Westporters who have not thought much about Afghanistan can do so tonight (May 11) — from the comfort of the Westport Public Library. At 7:30 p.m. LTC Chacho will speak about coalition and American strategies, and the factors that may help or hinder success.
As familiar as Chacho is with military affairs and defense policy, she is equally at home in Westport. Her husband, LTC Jonathan Liba, is a Staples grad. His parents still live here.
He has been in Kabul since July — giving Chacho a particularly keen interest in the country.
As a professor, she examines every issue through many angles. As a military officer, though, she realizes “you see things through your perspective — your mission. It’s not easy getting a sense of the larger picture.”
The result, she says, is “lots of different information, varying senses of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s not easy to assess.”
But there is one thing she’s certain of: her students.
“My cadets are amazing,” she says. “They have an awesome, incredible responsibility. It’s inspiring to see their dedication. Their eyes are wide open.
“I’m biased, but I invite anyone into my classes to see what we’re talking about, and how my cadets are responding. You’ll be impressed.”
And if you can’t get to West Point to see Chacho — lieutenant colonel and professor — in action, do the next best thing. Get to the library tonight.
Tyler Hicks captures daily life for American soldiers in Afghanistan. (Photo by Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
It’s common for Westporters to see Tyler Hicks’ photo credit in the New York Times. The Staples graduate — and Pulitzer Prize winner — travels the globe, shooting searing, thought-provoking, even action-compelling images in every hot spot from Iraq to New Orleans.
Now he’s on the other side of the view finder.
The Times’ “Lens” blog — which combines the best photos and videos with intriguing back stories — has focused on Hicks’ most recent work in Afghanistan. Headlined “Into the Maw at Marja,” it’s a harrowing look at the ground and air war in that vicious land.
The story begins:
“Using one another as pillows, like a family huddled together for warmth in a house without heat, most of the Marines were catching a little sleep before their mission was to begin. But one sat wide awake at the edge of their huddle.
“Another Marine gazed at a snapshot of himself and his wife. The picture’s tattered edge conveyed how well traveled it was. And how often it was so lovingly examined.
“Mr. Hicks was there.
“Along with members of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, Mr. Hicks, a staff photographer for The Times, was preparing to go into battle.
I have to carry cameras, lenses, a laptop, satellite transmitter, chargers, batteries and cables. I bring duplicates of some chargers in case one shorts out because if I can’t charge, then I can’t file my pictures. A sleeping bag, enough clothes to stay relatively warm, three days of food and water. I also wear body armor, a helmet, protective goggles and some first aid gear — pressure bandages and tourniquets, mostly. Things begin to get heavy.
It’s harrowing stuff. Click here to read more — and to view some never-before-seen photos of a war Westporters don’t often think about.
But one that Afghans, soldiers — and Tyler Hicks — live every day.
Westporters responded immediately, and generously. Within days, scores of residents dropped off toiletries, dried fruit, white socks, DVDs — and much more — at Jane Horton’s house. She boxed them up and shipped them off.
Many other residents mailed goods (and goodies) on their own. All told, over 50 large boxes were sent.
Sgt. Calvin Wauchope
Wauchope returned to the US in December, after 7 months in Helmand Province. He was 15 miles outside of Marja — the hot spot in today’s news — locating enemy mortar fire using radio frequencies.
The experience, he says, was like nothing he’d ever had before — not even in 2 tours of Iraq.
“Southern Afghanistan society is very tribal and inclusive,” the Staples grad reports. “It was hands down the most interesting and gratifying experience I’ve ever had.”
Wauchope is re-adjusting to civilian life. He is applying to colleges in the New York area for next fall. He will study political science, so he’s looking for work — even an internship — this spring and summer in town politics, or possibly the VA.
Meanwhile, he is trying to help a former Staples friend — and fellow military man.
Cpl. Greg Jacobs has been in Afghanistan since January. As an infantryman, his days are particularly strenuous and stressful.
Wauchope — who was “blown away” by the support of Westporters last year — hopes to replicate that experience for Jacobs.
Dry noodles (Ramen, Cup Noodles)
Pre-packaged tuna packets
Beef jerky, dried fruit
Chewing tobacco (Skoal, Grizzly — “some habits are a necessity over there”)
Chips, pretzels and any dry food
Canned soups (Campbell’s, Progresso, Chef Boyardee)
Drink packets (Kool-Aid, Crystal Light, Propel, Gatorade)
Toiletries (baby wipes, body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant)
Socks (boot length)
Magazines, books, DVDs, CDs (old or new, classics or a mixtape)
“You don’t have to follow this exactly,” Wauchope notes. Some of the best packages he received were from families who added their own favorites. And, he says, “letters or pictures are a great addition.”
NOTE: The donation site has changed. Donations can now be dropped off at Jane Horton’s home: 134 Roseville Rd. There is a trunk on the front porch. She asks that drop-offs be made at “a reasonable hour.” For more information, call Wauchope at 203-451-2617 or email email@example.com. Because shipping is expensive, please consider adding a contribution to defray those costs.
You can also send supplies directly to Jacobs and his unit:
CPL Jacobs, Gregory C
3/6 H+S Co. Scout Sniper Platoon
Posted onDecember 5, 2009|Comments Off on Mike Vlahos’ Journey: From Hamlet To Afghanistan
Sharp-eyed Huffington Post readers may have noticed Michael Vlahos’s recent entry: “Are We Not Romans?” In it, the member of the National Security Assessment Team at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Labs writes eruditely of Americans, ancient Romans, Afghanistan, and “those martial neocons-of-the-soft-hands and their adder-tongued women.”
Westporters with long memories may do more than admire the author’s sophisticated arguments. They’ll recall Mike Vlahos from his Staples days. The 1969 graduate was one of the brightest students in a class full of them. He went on to Yale, then earned a doctorate in history and strategic studies at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
As a Staples actor, he played the difficult role of Hamlet. Westporters who knew him then should not be surprised that, 40 years later, he’s still tackling complex philosophical and ethical issues.
Comments Off on Mike Vlahos’ Journey: From Hamlet To Afghanistan
President Obama spoke last night about Afghanistan. Americans now have our say. But how much do we really know about that far-off, hard-to-fathom land?
If we’re going to have a serious discussion on a very important subject, we should know what we’re talking about. Tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7:30, the Westport Public Library will help us do just that.
Paul Fishstein will address the many difficult issues affecting this complicated place. He’s a research fellow working on state building and human rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan at Harvard’s JFK School of Government at Harvard, with experience in that area dating back to 1977.
Spending a night learning about Pashtuns, Waziristan and other often-discussed but largely misunderstood subjects is no one’s idea of fun. And it’s the holiday season; most of us have more than enough to keep us busy.
But if we’re going to have an opinion on the president’s major move, we should at least know what we’re talking about.
(The library’s Community Conversations are sponsored by the Smilow Family.)
Dried goods (Pepperidge Farms-type, like Goldfish; they don’t have a microwave, so no popcorn, etc.)
Letter writing material (including stamps)
Calvin is in charge of 7 men. His best friend leads another 7. There’s a total of 40 Marines on base — and all could benefit from Westport’s generosity.
You can pack donations into a $10 flat rate box (available at the post office), and send it to:
Sgt. Wauchope, Calvin
3DBN 11th MAR(TAP)
FPO AP 96427-1630
But you don’t even have to do that. Westport uber-volunteer Jane Horton — a friend of the Wauchopes — has volunteered to accept any material, and take care of shipping. Her address is 134 Roseville Road; please email firstname.lastname@example.org before dropping off.
We don’t hear a lot about Afghanistan these days. But now that we’ve heard, let’s help 1 of Westport’s own. And 39 other Americans, who are also our own.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)