Friday, July 15, 2005
Neil Fantasia returns from Afghanistan
Fantasia, 26, grew up in Carlisle, attended the Carlisle School and is a 1998 graduate of CCHS. He attended the East Coast Aerotech's one and one-half year program for aeronautical maintenance at Hanscom Field in Bedford. While still living in Carlisle, he signed on with the Carlisle Fire Department in October 1998.
On September 7, 2001, Fantasia joined the Army National Guard. Then came 9/11, and it was only 14 days later that Fantasia received a phone call telling him to report for duty. "I paid my bills, packed my bags and headed for boot camp on October 5 at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri," recalled Fantasia. He was in boot camp for two and a half months, home for Christmas, then in January he was off to Advanced Individual Training (AIT), on mission for a specialty. "It's where the military trains you for the job they want you to do," explained Fantasia. There Fantasia was trained as a Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) warfare specialist, non-commissioned officer. "I was trained to detect, decontaminate, partially dismantle and dispose of all NBC weapons. I was also trained to react if NBC weapons were detonated." He then received orders to report to the 101st Engineering Battalion in Reading, Massachusetts. "I was the only NBC specialist in my battalion," continued Fantasia.
In September of 2003, Fantasia left the 101st and was transferred to the 265th Air Defense Battalion of the National Guard in Melbourne, Florida. Here he was trained to be a member of a three-man team to go out in the field in a Humvee equipped with 50-caliber machine guns, and stinger missiles launched with control panels that lock on to an enemy airplane, helicopter or air device.
Then, in November, Fantasia was notified of possible deployment to Afghanistan. After several months at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, training for convoy security, force protection, and combat police duty, Fantasia and his unit were finally deployed to Afghanistan, landing in the country on April 27, 2004.
During his 12 and a half months of combat duty, Fantasia's unit was assigned to secure and protect the American compound in the heart of Kabul. The American compound, explained Fantasia, was in the middle of all the coalition force compounds which included military officers from Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia and other countries who had come from all over the world to fight the terrorists.
Orders from officers assigned to compound
Fantasia explained that his mission was to guard and protect the compound. "We manned the guard towers, searched every vehicle that came into the compound, manned the guard shacks and all the gates to the compound. We went in Humvees out across the city, as mobile patrols. In the Humvee there was a gunner, a driver and a team chief. I also volunteered for QRF (Quick Reaction Force). We took part in foot patrols in the city, foot patrols in the mountains. It meant 12 hours on and 12 hours off, but when under attack, that meant many hours on duty. When the compound was under attack, we were the first line of defense. We were on duty, really, all of the time."
Asked his reasons for signing on to serve in the military, Fantasia explained, "both my grandfathers served in World War II. My mother's uncle died in WW II. Military is in my family and I felt it was my turn to serve." Fantasia went on to express in sobering terms what the past 12 and a half months in Afghanistan had meant to him. "It was the worst experience of my life. The worst parts weren't the attacks, but it was the waiting around for attacks. We knew how to do our job and we were good at it. We never lost a single officer, but there were casualties."
Giving more details of his experience in Afghanistan, Fantasia added, "We were six days on and then one day off. Because of volunteering for QRF, I lost most of my days off. I just wanted to come home knowing I had given it my all." He still remembers "presence patrols" in the city; missions to do room-toroom searches in small villages, searching for weapons and explosives. "The local nationals were making their own weapons from anything the Russians left behind. Afghanistan has the most landmines," said Fantasia. And opium? "I never dealt with it," he replied.
Asked about the Afghan people, Fantasia continued: "Of the local nationals, 50% were good, honest individuals and the others were out to get you for a buck. Overall the Afghan people are happy to have us serving in their country."
The war in Afghanistan vs. the war in Iraq
How does the war in Afghanistan compare with the war in Iraq? "The war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq are two separate conflicts," replied Fantasia. "The U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are frustrated by the way the American public talks about the war in Afghanistan, but have never been there. They watch CNN and Fox News and think they know what they are talking about. The letters we get from family and friends show how they think nothing is going on over there, but we know people are dying." On the other hand, Fantasia explained that for an entire year, under security measures (OPSEC), soldiers could not talk or write about what was happening.
The American media
"We are upset with the American media," continued Fantasia. "Soldiers felt unappreciated. But my mother backed me up. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't have made it. I felt she knew it wasn't a walk in the park. She sent me four-page letters or e-mails, daily."
"Things are getting better," reported Fantasia. "When we first went there, rocket attacks and small arms fires were out of control. Through the dedication of the American soldiers and coalition force members, we were able to get things under control. We improved security in the compound and security for the Afghan people. We were able to help in the election, securing ballot booths; we provided security for training sessions for Afghan soldiers; protected President Karzi on several occasions and provided security for visiting dignitaries. Donald Rumsfeld, I think he is doing a great job," added Fantasia emphatically.
"We were replaced by the Mississippi National Guard in April. We trained them to do our job before we left in May to return to Ft. Dix to be demobilized. I've been let go until August 1 and then there's a good chance I'll be sent to Iraq."
As the interview was winding down, Fantasia had some last thoughts to share. "I love this country. I'd die for this country in a heartbeat. The only problem is so many Americans take their freedoms for granted. I'm sick of people asking me why I do what I do! If I don't do it, who will? It's crucial that the American public support our soldiers overseas. Some want to go and some don't want to go. It's important that those who do go know that their country is behind them."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito