Family of Indiana soldier killed in Afghanistan react to Taliban rule

What did he die for?

Was the price worth it?

What is different ?

These are the questions Gene Griffin asked himself as he watched the Taliban take over Afghanistan, overthrow Kabul and declare themselves de facto rulers of the country.

These are the same questions he asked 12 years ago. The same feelings of uncertainty that weighed on his mind when his son, Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, was killed in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan’s Arghandab Valley on October 27, 2009.

At the time, the assurance of a high-ranking military commander and friend that Dale fought an important, necessary and meaningful battle “helped me not to go that far,” Gene said. And, years later, other members of the military community reach out to check on the Griffins.

“They knew we would be hurt,” Gene said, shaking hands with his wife, Dona, when he spoke with IndyStar on Aug. 20. “They knew we would ask ourselves why our son gave his life. It is a difficult question.

Griffins are not alone.

The United States is out of Afghanistan. What happens next in the nation now ruled by the Taliban?

Veterans and their families across the country grappled with a range of emotions as they watched events in Afghanistan unfold. Some are disappointed with those who make the decisions. Others are frustrated with the Afghan military’s response to the Taliban’s resurgence. And still others need to reflect on their service and sacrifice.

These feelings are compounded by images of thousands of people desperately trying to flee Afghanistan as US and NATO troops withdrew from the country. A bomb attack at Kabul airport on August 26 killed dozens of people, including 13 US servicemen. One of them was a Hoosier. The last American troops left Kabul six days later, ending the United States’ 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Photographs by Dale R. Griffin, bottom left, are on display in the Indiana Remembering Our Fallen Memorial Exhibit at the Honoring Hoosier Heroes Program in the Pioneer Village Opry House at Indiana State Fairgrounds on Friday, August 20, 2021. The exhibit Honors Indiana servicemen who died in a war zone since September 11, 2001.

The impending 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, which prompted the United States to become involved in the war, has not helped matters.

But the Griffins no longer question their son’s sacrifice. Instead, they focus on the positive impact Dale has had on those around him and the Afghans they say he cares about.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Gene said of the current situation in Afghanistan. “I have no doubts about Dale’s sacrifice. I suffer for the people there.

“I think I can tell the difference”

It was in 2005 when Dale came to see his parents with the news that he wanted to enlist.

A high school wrestling champion, then 25, he attended the Virginia Military Institute on a full scholarship before transferring to a school in Illinois. He took a job in Indianapolis while planning to complete his business degree.

“Then he came over to us one day and said ‘I have to go’,” recalls Gene. “It was a simple statement. He said, ‘I think I can make a difference.'”

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While Dale wasn’t always interested in academics, he had a keen interest in his new role, according to his mother, Dona. He studied Arabic for 10 months when his battalion thought he was deployed to Iraq, and he began to learn Pashto when that posting was transferred to Afghanistan.

He was deployed to the Arghandab Valley with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., In 2009.

“He was delighted with the country and the people,” Dona said of her son’s stay in Afghanistan. When Dale wrote home, he would ask her to send candy, crayons and coloring books for the Afghan children.

It is this connection Dale had with the Afghan people that hurts the Griffins as they see photos and videos of Afghans invading Kabul airport in a last ditch effort to flee the Taliban regime.

Dona Griffin browses a photo album dedicated to her son, Dale R. Griffin, following the Honoring Hoosier Heroes program in the Pioneer Village Opry House at Indiana State Fairgrounds on Friday, August 20, 2021.

Last week Dona woke up feeling nauseous. “More than anything,” she said, “it was a depression because of what I was seeing – where these families who have sacrificed so much to support us are just left behind and the proper action is not taken.”

Dale was friends with an Afghan interpreter, Dona noted. The Griffins later learned that the Interpreter was killed in the same IED explosion – he ran to catch up with Dale so they could get into the same Stryker vehicle that night. Six other soldiers were also killed in the attack.

“(I feel for) those who have paid the price for their country and for our country – for the freedom that our country represents,” Dona said, looking at her husband. “And (after) all these years, now we’re just going to pack up?” “

Gene echoed those sentiments, but noted that he was not saying the United States should have stayed in Afghanistan. If the United States were to leave, he said, it would have to leave with the right plans and “without letting the world know what’s going on.”

“Now the people our son really loved… now all of these people are in danger,” he said.

“They are there for each other”

“To the men of the valley of the river Arghandab ’09 -’10,” the letter begins, “We are probably all disappointed that the Taliban is taking back control of Afghanistan. Kandahar city is one of the most recent places to fall.”

“I read an account that some veterans (of Operation Enduring Freedom) said their buddies who were killed died for no reason. No one can tell you how you feel about it, but I , I don’t agree with anyone who would say that the 22 men we lost had died in vain. “

“In my opinion, each of them gave his life for you, their brothers, who were to their left and to their right when things were bad …”

Colonel Jonathan Neumann, commander of the Dale Battalion in Afghanistan, told IndyStar he sent this note to his former soldiers and their families in mid-August because he knew it was “terribly disappointing to seeing and thinking that a lot of hard work “was taken away.

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Anniversaries of the deaths of some members of the battalion were also approaching, he said. The first two men were killed on August 18, and his men post photos and mementos of those they lost every year.

“I would hate for someone to think these guys died in vain, that they died for nothing,” Neumann said. “I do not believe it at all.”

Unlike much of Afghanistan, the Arghandab Valley is a dense, vegetated area of ​​pomegranate orchards, melons and other crops. The Taliban had placed “a lot of very large explosives” in the area before the arrival of Neumann’s men, he said, and used the valley as a passageway to launch attacks on Kandahar, the second largest city in the city. ‘Afghanistan.

This made the area “lethal,” Neumann said, and the men were often in combat.

“We were there for each other, not so much for a big mission,” Neumann said of his soldiers and their sacrifice. “At the end of the day, the young soldiers – they are in action and they are in action for each other left and right.”

Dona Griffin, left, and Gene Griffin show off their favorite family photo in a photo album dedicated to their son, Dale R. Griffin, after the Honoring Hoosier Heroes program at the Pioneer Village Opry House at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Friday 8 August.  20, 2021.

He noted that his troops had “put a huge brake on Taliban operations” while they were in the valley and said they “left the place much better than we have inherited.”

Dale, Neumann said, was a hero and a “great athlete.” He recalled a time before the deployment to Fort Lewis in Washington state in which Dale won the heavyweight championship in an army combative mixed martial arts type competition.

And he won it hands down.

“Watching him do that was pretty impressive,” recalls the Colonel. “That’s sort of when you learned, OK, this guy is a little different than a lot of soldiers we had.”

“We feel Dale at the park”

For Gene and Dona Griffin, Colonel Neumann’s note has been one of the few things that has given them comfort in recent weeks.

But the Griffins have said their faith in God and their bicycle park in Terre Haute are the two main anchors that help them cope with the loss of their youngest son and the pain that recent events have brought to them. .

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Griffin Bike Park was founded in 2016 and offers over 20 miles of off-road trails. It started as a way to remember Dale – who loved mountain biking with his family – and the more than 200 Hoosier soldiers who lost their lives since the war on terror began 20 years ago.

One trail, the Warrior Trail, which features photos and names of dozens of deceased Hoosier servicemen on either side, has drawn veterans and their families from around the world. The trail leads to a bronze memorial for Dale.

“One thing we noticed is that we can smell Dale at the park,” Dona said with a smile. “We feel it blowing in the wind.”

Gene Griffin, left, and Dona Griffin stand together for a portrait after the Honoring Hoosier Heroes program at the Pioneer Village Opry House at Indiana State Fairgrounds on Friday August 20, 2021. Their son, Dale R. Griffin, was killed in Afghanistan October 27, 2009.

In a ceremony in late August at the Indiana State Fair honoring fallen soldiers, Gene spoke about his son, his sacrifice, and the bike park.

He told the crowd that a person only dies twice: once when he leaves this Earth and a second time when his name is never mentioned again.

“It will never happen,” he said.

Contact Lawrence Andrea at 317-775-4313 or [email protected] Follow him on twitter @lawrencegandrea.

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