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Apr-02-2012 03:51printcomments

Dennis Weichel Reminds Us Who Americans Really Are

Dennis Weichel's heroic death brings us the other side of the story in Afghanistan.

Father of three Dennis Weichel gave his life saving a child
Father of three Dennis Weichel gave his life saving a child.

(SALEM) - The story of Rhode Island soldier Dennis Weichel makes it easy to remember why I left Afghanistan in 2007 thinking that a lot of good Americans were engaged in that conflict. They were there then and they are there now, as this father of three who gave his life to save an Afghan child showed us.

Perhaps more than anything, his story is a testimony to the National Guard soldier, who is a civilian first and a soldier second. This is not to short play them, because unlike in past wars, guard troops serve as much time overseas as their active counterparts. In the opinion of many Americans like myself, it was never really supposed to be that way.

But fortunately to those living with war, people who are not fully involved in a military lifestyle seem to have an easier time just being civil. I was impressed time and time again by people in the U.S. (and Canadian and British) military who went on humanitarian aid missions. In fact I saw really tremendous human efforts from the soldiers and sailors and Marines in Iraq also.

Lest we forget who we are and what we represent; even if our national image becomes flawed by the regrettable actions of politicians and others in the military. The majority of Americans are not ill-willed, they are quite sadly, very programmed by a biased media that fails to keep its government in check, but then that is nothing very unusual in this world. Americans are really a decent people in spite of past actions, and this man, this humble soldier from Rhode Island, who also has family members in Massachusetts, just did the right thing, and a child is alive because of his selfless, heroic actions.

He had only been in Afghanistan for twelve days.

His story adds contrast to mistaken attacks on Pakistani military outposts, terrible mass murder, and other regrettable errors that are very real parts of this war, but not the only parts that count.

The New York Times wrote:

After months of what has seemed like a relentless series of episodes of soldiers behaving badly, from Koran burnings to massacres, the military was almost reluctant to trumpet its good deeds, not only in the Weichel case, but in another recent case where soldiers saved the life of a Taliban insurgent’s son.

Laghman province is represented on this map of Afghanistan

This 29-year old soldier was in the Laghman province when the accident happened that claimed his life. The vehicle that struck Dennis Weichel, apparently was not a truck that belonged to his own unit.

The story brings many things to mind, like how in the early years of the war, U.S. forces were not allowed to stop in Kabul, even if an Afghan National Police officer running traffic at an intersection tells them to stop.

Fearing attack when stopped, the vehicles I traveled in went up and over sidewalks and anywhere they damned well pleased, and it was clear that even driving attitudes needed to be controlled differently than they were. Not to mention that every vehicle has a gunner with a live machine gun ready to fire at anyone who threatens them.

I won't mention names, but I was also in a HUMVEE that ran into an Afghan soldier on an Afghan National Army base one morning. The guy was OK I'd like to think, but we hit him hard (probably 20+ MPH) and we barely stuck around long enough to find out if he was truly alright in my opinion, or totally injured and in shock.

Also when I was in Kabul, a U.S. truck ran down an Afghan child in a tragic incident that really angered the populace as anyone could imagine, that reportedly happened near the Kabul Airport.

It all reminds of of the danger these trucks represent to all human beings, like the soldier in this case, and certainly the child he saved.

There are conflicting reports by the way, of whether the child, reported to be ten-years old, is a boy or a girl. The family of Dennis Weichel believe it is a girl, the NY Times article from 31 March 2012 states that the child is a boy.

Lost Chances

I'll tell you what the Afghanistan war was a chance for, chivalry. This concept is far from lost for many of us and I hail from a family that has been against the Taliban since the last century. The Taliban are so demeaning toward women and girls that they are meaningless, I have no use for any type of religious government, and this is the darkest expression and not a true form of Islam, no way.

Salem-News.com photo from Kabul by Tim King

Taliban draw their philosophy from the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia where bin Laden hailed from. This is where everything becomes blurred and complicated, because these are the 'allies' of the U.S. They are the ones who don't let women drive, make them wear the burqa, etc. The other dangerous ones are the Salafists, again not regular Muslims, but radical fundamentalist nutjob haters, like the guys from Benghazi, Libya who desecrated the WWII British cemetery last week.

Being against the Taliban does not mean being for war, at least not always. Bonnie King and I were circulating petitions against the Taliban in the late 90's, in Las Vegas, trying to persuade drivers to boycott Union 76 because they were funding the Taliban, back in the days when Taliban officials were honored guests at the Texas state capitol; guests of then-Governor George W. Bush.

In Afghanistan I interviewed many people who had lost family members to the Taliban; in fact there was only a small gap of time between when that was going on and when I was there. Everywhere I went around Kabul there were signs of the violent struggle to wrest this nation back from the Taliban.

I spent an afternoon visiting with two women who were permanently crippled and in wheelchairs specifically due to Taliban attacks. These were women who knew life before the Taliban, which set them apart from so many younger women who only knew a country based in religious oppression. The older women lived in Afghanistan during the communist years when religion wasn't even allowed.

Afghan interpreter in Kabul, who lost a brother to the
Russians, then another brother and his little girl, to the
Taliban. 2007 photo by Tim King

A man I became friends with, who was an interpreter with the U.S. Army, had a story of epic proportions all due to the multiple wars. He was born in Afghanistan, but raised in Pakistan because of the Russian war. Like many families, his returned after the Russian war, only to be in a place the Taliban assumed control of.

One of my friend's brothers was killed by the Russians in the 1980's, another was killed by the Taliban, "Decapitated with a knife" - my friend explained, making a cutting motion across his own throat. Then Taliban driving through Kabul in a pickup truck, shot his two-year old daughter as she played in his front yard, and then his mother died from her heart being shattered. The tragedy didn't end there but I think you get the point. When the war began, the people of Kabul in particular, whose lives were directly impacted by a Taliban government, appreciated the arrival of the Americans.

What Americans have not done, is rebuild this country, deliver proper amounts of food and medicine, U.S. hospitals and fire agencies and police agencies need to donate old gear; school supplies are needed, like a million pens, and notebooks, and warm hats and gloves.

It is not too late to turn it around at least partly, I was there in 2006 and 2007 and I keep thinking I need to see it again. I know as Americans we appreciate the actions of this hero, Dennis Weichel, who incidentally, was promoted to Sergeant posthumously, and we would equally appreciate knowing that we did more than we have, we need to shove past politicians who want to limit human aid to these poor people.

We need to get around them, and concentrate on repairing what we have broken. The people of Afghanistan do not want Taliban in control, and Barack Obama is preparing to do just this, it is a mistake in the making and we need to accomplish more for these people.

Incredible image of Dennis Weichel with two of his kids speaks a thousand words.

In doing so we would perhaps justify this brave soldier's death, you know, make it not have been for absolutely nothing.

Feeding and clothing and providing basic medical supplies would also offset the tragedy of innocent victims. By simply importing large amounts of supplies we could win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, they are beautiful souls, they are sometimes old beyond their years, and sometimes animated and funny and seemingly not phased by the terrible war that envelopes every aspect of the world that they know.

What we have, they do not have, and it is not necessarily their fault. This is a complex war and region, but basic human needs are not complicated, and we are capable of meeting them if we put our minds to it. Again, the losses this war represents should not be for nothing. Taliban are a bad energy and negative politics, as bad as anything on the face of this earth. I know there are members of this group who were just sucked in, but part of the problem five and six years ago, was rooted in the fact that the Taliban paid more than the Afghan National Army. That fact alone cost so much in the way of attrition and a simple lack of loyalty.

I can go on, all we are doing is compounding tragedy and staving off the inevitable power hand off to the Taliban. We should take a different approach and win this war not with bullets, but with love. Laugh if you want. I love the people of Afghanistan, I love all people, but these are the ones we brought a promise to, let's live up to it.

I appreciate U.S. Army Sergeant Dennis Weichel's sacrifice and the reminder he brings to all of us.

By the way, we won't even consider posting comments that assault this soldier, be respectful or please don't bother.

______________________________

Tim King in 2008, covering the Iraq War

Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005.

Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.

Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: tim@salem-news.com. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)

View articles written by Tim King





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COLLI April 8, 2012 6:29 am (Pacific time)

Sgt. Weichel was indeed a true hero and representative of what every human being should try to be. I am grateful for the life he saved and sad for the children he left behind. His deeds, though they may appear small compared to the vast theater of war, are giant in the even more vast theater of humanity! Thanks Tim. The world needed to hear this and you related his story so well.


CALVIN FRYE April 2, 2012 4:45 am (Pacific time)

Excellent writing Tim. Very informative.

Tim King: Semper fi Marine.

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