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US troops at remote Afghan base celebrate Independence Day

U.S. soldiers near the end of a 5-kilometer race at Forward Operating Base Dahlke on Thursday, July 4, 2019. The race was organized to mark Independence Day.

PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 4, 2019

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DAHLKE, Afghanistan — U.S. servicemembers deployed to this austere base in eastern Afghanistan had something extra to celebrate this Independence Day: the official opening of a USO center.

The facility’s inauguration corresponded with a string of events to mark the holiday, including a 5-kilomoter run, basketball and table tennis competitions and even alcohol-free beer pong.

FOB Dahlke, which opened in recent years on the old grounds of Forward Operating Base Shank, has traditionally offered next to nothing for troops in terms of recreation. But soldiers with Task Force Apocalypse, currently stationed at the base, have been working to change that.

“When we first came here we didn’t have anywhere for the soldiers to do anything,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Pryor, an aviation operations specialist with the task force who was deployed earlier this year.

It was Pryor who recommended setting up a USO center and after getting approval, scoured the grounds for an empty building and even helped with construction work.

The facility, which took over a month to construct, is now equipped with a movie screening area, pool table, televisions, video games and free wi-fi.

“The only thing people used to say here was ‘Dahlke doesn’t have anything, this is going to be the worst deployment,’” Pryor said. “Anyone can sit and complain, but I thought: ‘Yeah, it sucks, but guess what? I’m going to make a USO, and the soldiers are going to love it.”

On Thursday, it appeared Pryor’s goal was achieved, and just in time to mark the Fourth of July. After he cut an opening ceremony ribbon, the facility and the grounds around it were teeming with troops celebrating. At noon, the USO provided a barbeque lunch in addition to the other activities.

“I think what they did today was great, it was a great morale boost,” said Spc. Michael Millier, 33, an aviation specialist with Task Force Apocalypse. “It’s a big holiday back home, and it stinks not being with your family. I’ve got a wife and three girls, but you got to do what you got to do for your country.”

Spc. Joshua Cross, 31, also an aviation specialist with Task Force Apocalypse, said the activities helped take troops’ minds off missing their families.

“What they’re doing here today is amazing for everybody,” he said. “Things here can get stressful and it’s nice to be able to come out, have fun and spend time with people you don’t normally get to see every day. It’s a big stress reliever, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Despite temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit at lunchtime, “everyone’s pretty happy,” Spc. Joe Murray, 23, a combat medic, observed. “We celebrate our independence every year no matter where we are, whether we’re here or back home. I always take pride in my country.”

While being deployed to Afghanistan is always challenging, being deployed to a remote base like Dahlke is extra challenging, according to Pryor, who said he was happy to give the troops here temporary reprieve from the severity of combat.

“I’m just so happy the soldiers are here,” Pryor said. “At the end of all of this, I’m just glad the soldiers get to enjoy it. That’s the biggest thing.”

wellman.phillip@stripes.com
Twitter: @pwwellman

U.S. soldiers at Forward Operating Base Dahlke, in Afghanistan's Logar province, pose for a photo after running a 5-kilometer race to mark Independence Day on Thursday, July 4, 2019.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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