As war comes to an end, retired Fort Drum soldiers reflect on tours in Afghanistan

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 4:30 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - America’s longest war is coming to an end. By September 11, U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan. The 20 years of conflict included dozens of deployments for the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum.

Three retired soldiers, all who served with the 10th in Afghanistan, reflect on ending the war - a war where they saw challenges, progress and sacrifices. They sat down with 7 News at American Legion Post 61 in Watertown.

“We all served on the installation together, but we weren’t in the same unit together,” said Sergeant First Class Roy Mitchell (Ret.).

Three 10th Mountain Division veterans are friends and retirees living in the north country.

Master Sergeant James Shinholt (Ret.) served in the 2nd Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry. He had 1 tour in Afghanistan in 2008-2009, helping train Afghan soldiers.

Mitchell deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade’s 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry in the early years of the war, 2002 and 2003.

Jim Redmore, the retired command sergeant major of the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, led thousands of soldiers to fight in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007.

“Challenging, absolutely. Not easy to fight. No it’s not,” said Redmore.

Not easy, he says, because of the large footprint U.S. troops covered.

“When you deploy your forces you have to be able to sustain them, and logistically that was a nightmare at times. The weather was a challenge. The maintenance required to get the aircraft to bring the supplies to the bases in our footprint was challenging at times,” said Redmore.

The challenges and the risks led to today’s reward, says Shinholt.

“No one wants repetitive tours over there, putting your life at risk every time you got there. But, in the long run it made us safer,” he said.

Mitchell remembers how the enemy evolved as war waged on.

“They fought differently, just like us evolving and learning the enemy. They learned what we were doing also,” he said.

Mitchell was badly wounded in a 2003 attack. His Humvee hit an anti-tank mine. He lost 3 quarters of his left leg, suffered shrapnel wounds and lost part of his lower jaw.

“It was part of the job. As a soldier, there’s always a chance. When I look at my injury and the sacrifice, I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I was doing my job to the best of my ability,” he said.

With the conflict coming to an end, these veterans, who know the fight first-hand, share similar views.

“I think it’s time. Afghanistan is at a point. You gotta find the sweet spot with that country and I think they are in the sweet spot and I think they are ready to go and we’ve done everything we can to set them up for success,” said Mitchell.

“Personally, I think we’re done,” said Shinholt. “I saw that we had two goals. One: to take out Al-Quaeda; and 2 is to build up this government so they could stand on their own. So I think we’ve accomplished both of those missions, in my opinion.”

“There’s gotta be a time when they take the lead and we’re going to push forward on our own and I think we’re there,” said Redmore.

The one worry is that President Biden’s announcement that troops will be out of Afghanistan by September 11 wasn’t the right move.

“The enemy could ramp up their actions again as they know we’re about to withdraw,” said Mitchell.

“I’m not worried about pulling out in terms of it all unraveling because, you know what, we’ll be right back there to fix it,” said Shinholt.

To fix it, the 10th Mountain Division would likely be one of the first to be called on again. The division is the most deployed since the 9/11 attacks.

We continue our report Wednesday, hearing how these veterans say their time with the 10th is their proudest, and they reflect on soldiers who didn’t make it home.

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