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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Former Infantryman Finds Calling in Civil Affairs

15 May 2007
By Army Pfc. Micah E. Clare
4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affair

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GHAZNI, Afghanistan — It was clear to Army Sgt. Drew Pylant as his convoy pulled up to the district center, framed against the snow-capped mountains of eastern Afghanistan, that he wasn’t fighting in the same kind of war that his father and grandfather fought in.

On an icy February morning in Ghazni Province, many years ago, he pulled up his neck gaiter to try and fight off the penetrating cold as he sat behind his M-249 squad automatic weapon. Even though he spent years running and training with this same weapon, he doubted his skills with it would come in use that day, or ever, because his mission had changed.

Delivering humanitarian aid had taken its place.

Pylant, a resident of Amarillo, Texas, grew up hearing stories from his father and grandfather about their war experiences.

“My grandfather was in the Navy and would tell me about the Marines he went out with, who came back white-faced and scared,” Pylant said.

Pylant joined the Army as an infantryman in 1996 and spent three years in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, where he earned his expert infantry badge and several achievement awards.

Feeling like he wanted to do something else, he went back home and picked up a civilian job that still put his combat skills to work.

When war broke out in the Southwest Asia, he realized what it had been he had searched for during his infantry days: people really getting a chance to serve their country during war. Then one day, five years after he left the military, he was asked to put on his uniform again for a burial detail for a hometown hero.

Pylant was compelled to join the military in a time of war, just as his grandfather and father had, respectively, in World War II and Korea.

Mindful of his career at home, Pylant decided to join Army Civil Affairs, one of the few options available that would get him to a place where he still might be able to put his military-oriented skills to good use.

A year later, as his convoy had come to a stop at the Ab-Adab district center, he was challenged to call on another set of skills he had picked up through the military: dealing with the local nationals waiting to receive supplies. This was the first time Pylant had seen the receiving end of his job.

“They’re all really excited about these goods,” Pylant said as he directed several paratroopers to pull off the blue tarp.

“Let’s go, start unloading,” Pylant ordered and motioned to the locals and Afghan national police officers standing by.

The locals worked quickly to unload, and quickly had the heavy boxes taken off of the first truck, figuring out a way to move the several hundred bags of food. Minutes later, they were tossing bags of flour and beans from one person to another, covering themselves in the white powder with each catch.

“It’s a good feeling to see these people get what they desperately need,” Pylant said.

Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Drew Pylant, 413th Civil Affairs, assists in unloading bags of clothes and blankets at the Ab-Adab District Center during a recent humanitarian aid mission in Ghazni Province. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Micah E. Clare.

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