JR and I are in Kandahar now. In physical distance, we’re not that far from the soldiers we spent the last three weeks with in Shoja, Khenjakak, Sperwan Ghar and Masum Ghar. And yet it feels light years away…in a Twilight Zone, time-warp way.

We can walk the boardwalk and see TGI Fridays, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, KFC and Kabob Pizza. We can eat our meals in a DFAC three maybe four times the size of the simple chow halls we frequented at outlying combat posts. Soldiers play football or soccer on an astro turf field in the center of the boardwalk and there are TV screens everywhere broadcasting soccer matches and U.S. football playoff games.

And then I wake this morning to the news that another Stryker soldier has been killed.

“A soldier based at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks was killed last weekend in a surprise attack inside a U.S. base in Afghanistan by a man dressed in an Afghan soldier’s uniform.

Click to enlarge
“Private 1st Class Dustin Paul Napier, 20, from London, Ky., was killed in the city of Qalat in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province Jan. 8, 2012.
The U.S. Army in Alaska on Tuesday identified the American soldier, a member of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, as Pfc. Dustin Paul Napier, 20, from London, Ky. He was shot Sunday afternoon in Qalat in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province.”
At the bottom of the story, it’s the words from his father that hurt my heart:

“Napier’s father was also soldier and served for five years. He told the Herald-Leader that his son was born in an Army hospital and died in one.”

Born in an Army hospital and died in one…20 years old. Married in October 2011, he was just beginning a new life with his wife.

I’ve read news reports recently that state that the insurgent activity has lessened…that it’s winter and fighting had died down. Though I’m remembering an interview I had with Brigade Commander Col. Todd Wood on Monday, Jan. 9, 2011.

I was talking to him about the women of the Female Engagement Team and the fact that they walk the same line behind the same mine sweeper as the guys in the infantry units to which they’re attached. In my opinion, these women soldiers are most definitely in combat.

He said: “In this environment, everybody is in a combat environment. We could get hit by a 107 rocket right now.”

Or, as it seems in the case of Private 1st Class Dustin Paul Napier, 20, from London, Ky, you could be playing volleyball with your buddies on a Sunday afternoon and get shot by a guy you think is your Afghan counterpart.

It may be winter. There may be fewer “events,” as the Army calls them. And yet, for a young soldier, the son of a soldier, none of that mattered. A bullet found him and took his life.

It was hard news for JR and me to take this morning. A sobering reminder of what Spec. Valerie Cronkhite, a medic attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry regiment told us before we left Shoja. She’s seen her share of mass casualties and death on this deployment.

She said we were lucky that we’d gotten to see as much as we’d seen, that we’d gonec out on patrols and an air assault and no one was hurt. She’s right..and we know it.

JR and I hugged. JR has gone to sit in the chapel for a while and I’m sitting here writing this blog.