Spc. Ryan Campbell: On patrol in Afghanistan

While most students were enjoying the summer off, a select few were 7,000 miles away from home in the service of their country. Staunton, Va. native Spc. Ryan Campbell deployed to Afghanistan on Jan. 6 with his unit, Bravo Company 1-26, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

Student in combat — Spc. Ryan Campbell attended Liberty’s Fall 2007 semester before joining the Army. He has been deployed since January. Photos provided

Campbell said it is tough to describe an overseas deployment.

“The best word that describes deploying is stressful — at least it is to anyone who has deployed to an active war zone,” he said. “We live in a decent area, we aren’t hit all that heavily, but we still get hit.”

To Campbell, the worst part about the unit’s deployment is that, while they are periodically shot at, the enemy is practically invisible. Taliban soldiers have learned not to directly engage U.S. soldiers, so they generally resort to firing mortar shells or planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the roads.

“Sometimes they will engage with small arms fire, but they have learned when they do that it turns out badly for them,” Campbell said. “They take a few shots at us, we return with grenades, .50 cals, medium and small arms fire. So they have pretty much stopped all of that.”

Two weeks before Liberty students would have been returning to campus back in the U.S., Bravo Company embarked on a three or four day mission with two main goals: soften relations with villages to the west where most of the mortar fire usually came from, and search houses reported to hold weapons caches.

The company took a different route than usual, after having recently hit an IED, but the enemy “got lucky.” As the soldiers were returning to their vehicles, they crossed a “wadi” (dry streambed) and walked into an IED explosion.

“After we had crossed over the wadi, I remember starting to walk around a bend and seeing, rather than hearing, the explosion,” Campbell said. “First (I saw) just a big cloud of dust enveloping our lead guy and him just being blown to the side and falling over.”

To Campbell, the whole event happened in slow motion, and his memory is “a little fuzzy” after receiving a concussion in the blast.

After the Army — Campbell intends to return, finish his degree and become a youth pastor. His fiancée Ashley Noonan graduated Liberty in 2010.

“What happened afterwards, I can remember bits and pieces: pulling security while the medevac helos came in, walking back to the village to search a house that had a clear view of the blast area, going to the trucks and then coming back to base later that night,” he said.

In all, seven soldiers were wounded in the attack. One man is recovering in Fort Knox following surgery to repair his left hand, and two others had shrapnel in their faces and legs. Campbell and three others were treated for mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and released back to active duty.

“The biggest thing that Liberty students or anyone who reads (this) article can do is pray for the safety of the soldiers overseas,” Campbell said. “…I know that is why, at least for me, why I haven’t been seriously injured — God is looking out for me.”

Bravo Company is scheduled to return home by mid-December, and Campbell will marry his fiancée Ashley Noonan soon afterward. He said care packages might not make it before the company pulls out, but for those who want to help, Campbell suggested the Wounded
Warrior Project. He also offered to ask whether the TBI center where he was treated needed any help.

Student veterans are encouraged to check out Military Affairs at Liberty, as well as the Student Veterans Group. Students Behind Our Soldiers and Silent Ranks with a Vision also exist to support veterans and their families, respectively. For more on what it is like to go on a patrol in Afghanistan, Campbell recommended longwarjournal.org. — an article on Aug. 19, “US troops weather rockets, recoilless rifles and grenades in Sabari,” described a recent Bravo Company mission “gone bad.”

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