A Soldier’s Story: Afghan Mission Confirms Young Officer’s Commitment to Army

By Ann Wlazelek

In March 2012, less than a year out of college and Army officer training, Reid George got what he asked for – deployment to Afghanistan. The Parkland High School graduate was 23. He knew no one in the war-torn country or what his role as a junior officer would be. What he knew was that he was being sent to the Zhari district, the birthplace of the Taliban.  While others might be scared, George was psyched.

“I was excited, really excited,” he recalled in a recent interview. “Maybe my mom thought I was crazy, but I had a smile on my face.”

George relished the chance to learn what “true soldiering” was all about, a desire he’s had since childhood. What he discovered was a deepening pride. Helping to protect a platoon of soldiers from terrorist attack, he said, made him feel like “the tip of the spear of the most powerful nation.”

In Afghanistan for more than five months, George served as a Fire Support Officer, working with the platoon leader and commander to coordinate helicopter and artillery defense in the event the soldiers were attacked. “It was frequent,” George said of the gunfire. The 30 or so soldiers were not there to engage in combat, he said. They were scouts, the first troops to step foot into a village and “test the waters” before the larger battalion could help residents set up their own peace-keeping form of governance.

Yet, so dangerous was the infantry’s task of collecting data and educating Afghans, that even before George arrived, one soldier had been killed stepping on a roadside bomb. Another was shot at and wounded while in a guard tower.

“Every day, waking up and seeing these young kids, fresh out of high school, leading the charge,” he said, was humbling. “One soldier took shrapnel to the face; another was shot through the arm. A couple weeks later they were back in the fight. It sends chills up my spine, the fiber these kids are made of.”

“It’s indescribably inspiring.  A few guys drive around, get blown up and are out on patrol again… and they are not complaining. I was just amazed by what true American soldiering I saw. I thought I had an idea of what it meant to keep your head high when presented with tough challenges, but I didn’t until I saw them.”

Most of the time George stayed at the outpost, which he described as small and remote, with tents, cots and bottled water. Villages, he said, looked much like he imagined them to be in Biblical times: hot and humid with people dressed in long robes, living in mud huts. No electricity. No sanitation.  Human waste ran in the same streams used for bathing, washing clothes and drinking. Although college had not prepared him for such conditions, fellow soldiers had his back, coaching, teaching, mentoring. The mindset, he said, is whatever is thrown at you, you cannot be beat, you will rise to the occasion. “There’s a culture to keep pushing through, and the confidence carries you,” George said. “The Army does not set you up for failure.”

When his mission ended Sept. 7, George returned to Fort Bragg, NC, where he is stationed with other members of the 82nd Airborne, a division of paratroopers. At all times, he said, the division is on call as America’s guard of honor, ready to participate in a forced entry in support of national defense. He lives in an apartment on post and rises each day at 4:45 a.m.

The first of Von and Jane George’s four children, Reid George was born in Ohio but grew up in Upper Macungie and South Whitehall townships. His interest in the military began early, watching his father leave for Iraq, Kosovo, Egypt and Lithuania. “He didn’t say what he loved about it or that I must do the same thing.  It was leadership by example. I saw how it made him who he is. It was contagious.”

Von George served for more than 20 years, commanding a battalion of Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen, before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. The Post 9-11 GI Bill paid for Reid’s sister Ellen’s college education. And Reid’s younger brothers, Anthony and Bobby, have declared interest in military futures as well. “I’d like to think I was a good soldier, but I didn’t have the enthusiasm he does at his age,” the elder George said of the first son to follow in his footsteps. “I’m proud and glad he’s doing some type of service and that he chose the military to do something for his country and generation.”

George was 12 when the 9-11 terrorist attack on America fueled his desire to serve.  At Parkland, he was a “disciplined student…eager to share his opinions and willing to debate his classmates,” his mentor and history teacher Bernard Dugan recalled.  George graduated from West Virginia University in May 2011 with a degree in history, specializing in Western Europe and North America.

By signing up for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, commonly called ROTC, George accepted a seven-year commitment to the Army. After that, he can decide whether or not to re-enlist. George has another five years to go come May but at 24 believes he’s found his calling. “I got hooked on what it is to be a soldier,” he said. “My sense of duty grew to a level I did not know was possible.”

In December, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. This spring, he will put his mettle to the test again when he starts the first of three 20-day ranger school endurance exercises. George will face lack of sleep and food in austere conditions at forts in Georgia and Florida – all to ready him for the next call.

“I would be proud and eager to deploy again so long as the fight and mission are ongoing,” he said. “I am addicted to the United States Army.  This is the most noble of professions the world can offer and I can say with confidence that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else.”

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