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FORWARD OPERATING BASE SWEENEY, Afghanistan — For 1st Lt. Timothy Bowen the ceremonial handover of Forward Operating Base Sweeney to the Afghan army was a profoundly moving moment.

He is the younger brother of the base’s namesake, Special Forces Staff Sgt. Paul Sweeney, and was flown in from Camp Clark in Khost province to watch the troops lower the American flag and raise the Afghan one.

FOB Sweeney, nestled among the rugged peaks about halfway between Qalat and the Pakistan border, was named for his older brother after he was killed nearby in a Taliban ambush in 2003.

“When my brother was killed, we found out a few months after that the base was named after him,” Bowen said. “So it was one of my dreams that if I ever came out to Afghanistan, to come out and see FOB Sweeney.”

Sweeney was the communications specialist for his team and was able to call in support during the intense firefight before he was shot and killed – likely saving the lives of the other soldiers.

“What he did that day helped a lot of guys get back that might not have otherwise, so it’s really cool to see him memorialized in such a way, and to see a base named after him in an area that he operated in,” Bowen said.

Sweeney had served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and Germany, and was the recipient of many awards, including the Bronze Star with valor, the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement Medal.

The base is one of a number of U.S. facilities being handed over to Afghan government troops or shut down as the drawdown of the NATO-led international force continues. Foreign troops are scheduled to end their combat mission at the end of 2014, although the Taliban remain undefeated after 11 years of war.

In remembrance of the base, Bowen received the memorial plaque that sat outside the base for almost 10 years.

“My brother had two sons. Sean is 13, and Ryan is 11, so I’m going to give that plaque to them. My sister has a room set up in the house as a memorial to my brother. It has his awards, pictures and flags that were flown for him, so this will be a cool addition to have the plaque from FOB Sweeney,” Bowen said.

Bowen says he and his brother used to talk about the mission in Afghanistan. He remembers his brother’s support for the mission, and said a transfer of the base, rather than a closing, is exactly what his brother would have wanted.

“I remember talking to my brother Paul when he was deploying to Afghanistan. There were always the set-backs, but he always said it was a fight worth fighting, and there were definitely people in the Afghan military here that were ready to take it upon themselves to build this country up,” Bowen said. “He had nothing but good things to say about the general fight that was going on.”

During the ceremony at the base, U.S. and Afghan military stood side-by-side as the base was officially handed over to the Afghans.

Both sides agree there will be many challenges, but are confident in the Afghan National Army’s ability to repel any attack.

“You’re starting to see the Afghan army leaders take a leading role as the security entity in pretty much each of their districts, and we’ve just validated that with our most recent mission,” said Lt. Col. Charles Lombardo, commander of 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment at FOB Sweeney. “They continue to improve every day, and they’re improving their mobility and confidence in their area of operation.”

“We gladly appreciate your help for the past 10 years that you’ve been here,” Col. Dhost, commander of the Afghan National Army’s 1st Kandak, told U.S. troops at the ceremony. “We wish you did not leave us halfway, because we’re not completed yet, but with your help we now have a stronger army.”

For Sweeney’s family, the base, no matter who operates it, will continue to be a sign of Sweeney’s ultimate sacrifice to the security of Afghanistan.

“Obviously my family knew my brother was something special, but it was cool to see how much he meant to other people, and to see what a lasting impact he had,” Bowen said.

All the troops currently stationed at FOB Sweeney have now fallen back to a larger base as part of the process of consolidation that will continue until all foreign combat forces have pulled out of Afghanistan.

pena.alex@stripes.com


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