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Airman shared experiences on Facebook, in columns

August 27, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - An Air Force Reserve officer from Wellsburg has used the Internet to provide people back home with a look at efforts by American troops to build Afghanistan and strengthen its government against terrorist forces.

While serving abroad, Air Force Reserve Capt. Ryan Weld related his experiences as a member of the Air Force Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul through Facebook entries and a series of columns submitted by e-mail to the Brooke Scene, a Herald-Star publication.

During the team's nine-month mission, Weld wrote about the good and bad he saw, from the repair or construction of bridges, schools and hospitals to the deaths of soldiers and civilians from insurgent attacks.

Weld, a 1998 Brooke High School graduate and 2003 Fairmont State University graduate, said he'd written many papers on political science topics for school but nothing of a personal nature before he set out to record his activities in Afghanistan.

But the Provincial Reconstruction Team had a Facebook page, and he knew a few other military personnel who had contributed to it.

Weld, the son of Roseanna and Anthony Filberto of Wellsburg and the late William Weld, formerly of Toronto, said he welcomed the opportunity to share aspects of the troops' mission with others.

"I thought it was important for everyone, not just family members of those who sereved, to know what goes on there," he said, adding, "I'd like to think my articles gave it (the mission) a personal perspective."

Asked if he was ever censored by military superiors, Weld said he wasn't but he was aware of what information was appropriate for sharing, particularly where security was an issue.

Weld said he was free to report on the positive and negative. For example, in his final column, he reflected on the deaths of four U.S. soldiers killed by an improvised explosive device, or IED, hidden in a culvert along a main highway while conducting a routine clearance operation.

IEDs are home-made explosives used by the terrorist forces in Afghanistan known as insurgents and are a recurring threat, he said.

While he was there, he was aware of two local children who were killed by the bombs and two who were injured.

Two of the children found the IED and not knowing what it was, were playing with it when it exploded. The other two were near the vehicle of a local police chief when it was detonated, Weld said.

The two children who survived were treated by doctors with his team, then flown by helicopter to an Army hospital, he said.

An IED also was responsible for the deaths of 13 civilians riding in a van used for public transportation, Weld recalled.

Weld's team was involved in seeking and removing the IEDs and land mines left by Soviet troops long ago and installing rebar grates on culverts to deter them from being used to hide IEDs, he said.

Weld said the team also was trained to recognize signs of a suicide bomber. The compound where he was stationed was targeted by one in March, but the would-be assailant accidentally blew himself up about 150 meters from the site, he said.

"You'd be surprised the boom that 50 pounds of explosives can make," Weld said.

He said the team was advised to be wary if they approached a village and weren't quickly approached by children, who were known for asking troops for candy and money.

Weld said response to American and Coalition forces by adult civilians ranged "from friendliness to cool aloofness."

Weld said some Afghans were clearly concerned about being seen by insurgents "but I never experienced outright hostility in a village."

He said the team often transported Afghan leaders to rural areas, sometimes by helicopter because there were no roads to reach them, to assess a community's needs.

"We're trying to show their government is there to be the problem-solver, not the insurgents," Weld said.

For this reason, Aghan officials play a prominent role during bridge dedications or other similar events.

Weld said the Afgans' opinion of U.S. troops is not as important as the need for a strong central government supported by its citizens because the American presence isn't intended to be permanent.

"As they continue to step up, we continue to fade into the background," he said.

Weld had been away from home for 13 months, counting four in training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.

While e-mail and Facbook posts helped him to keep in touch with family, friends and new acquaintances, he described his return home in July as "surreal."

He said he was touched by the welcome he received from local police, firefighters and others upon his arrival.

In his final column from Aghanistan, Weld reflected on watching the four fallen soldiers being carried over a ramp and onto a helicopter destined for the U.S.

"The American people has begun to ask hard questions regarding our nation's involvement in Afghanistan, and what we as a nation aim to accomplish here," he wrote.

"I think this type of national introspective reflection can be a good thing, as it continually encourages our nation's political, military and national security officials to constantly find innovative ways for us to accomplish our strategic goals here and to facilitate an end to this war," Weld continued.

"Standing on that ramp tonight, I can only hope that when the time comes, our generation will do all that it can to prevent our sons and daughters from having to make the sacrifices so many have already made," he concluded.

Weld currently is preparing to enter Duquesne University law school while continuing to serve in the Air Force Reserves. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul continue to post messages and photos, some of them graphic, on Facebook at Provincial-Reconstruction-Team-Zabul.

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