Janesville51.5°

Soldier talks of mountains, war and faith

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 31, 2008
— “Did any of your friends get hurt?”

The little girl’s question might have dredged up difficult memories for Sgt. Reuben Kraayveld.


But he handled it gently.


“Some people do get injured sometimes. That’s part of what happens.”


Kraayveld, an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division, spoke in a pre-Veterans Day program for some 65 kids in kindergarten through fifth grade at Rock County Christian School on Thursday.


He couldn’t be there for Veterans Day. He heads back to Fort Drum, N.Y., on Saturday to prepare for his second tour in Afghanistan.


He showed the kids Afghanistan on the map: “Pretty much half-way around the world …


“It’s pretty different over there. Most everybody lives in mud huts. Lots of mountains. Pretty steep.”


Kraayveld is 26, single, thin and soft-spoken. He showed the kids the 30-pound body armor vest that he carries up those mountains, in addition to his pack and weapon.


Kraayveld grew up in Beloit. He was home schooled. He worked as a house inspector in Illinois until he joined the Army in 2005, he said.


“Over there, we’ll be climbing the mountains and trying to find the bad guys. Things like that.”


The bad guys are the Taliban, Afghanistan’s former rulers.


“They kind of harbor the terrorists who blew up the twin towers,” Kraayveld said, referring to Al Qaeda fighters, including, presumably, Osama bin Laden.


Kraayveld said he survived “quite a few close calls,” but he believes prayers of those back home helped him return in one piece.


“The Lord has protected me. It was really, really evident in the last deployment,” he said.


One of his bases was a valley 7,500 feet above sea level. It was all uphill from there.


“The air is pretty thin,” he said.


Soldiers often sleep on the ground under their trucks. Home is a bare concrete building with a dirt floor.


What’s the hardest thing about being there?” a child asked.


“Communications,” he said.


Often there’s no phone, no e-mail.


“That just starts to take its toll on you,” he said. “You have no idea what’s going on back home.”


The soldiers carry C4 and dynamite. They blow up caves the enemy could shelter in.


They also spend a lot of time visiting villages, where poverty and hunger and ignorance reign, Kraayveld said.


The soldiers talk to village elders, find out what they need and arrange to build wells, schools or police stations, he said.


They provide security as local contractors or U.S. engineers do the building.


“There’s no schools there at all,” Kraayveld said. “There’s no learning. Most of the people can’t read or write. We’re slowly changing all that.


“Very slowly.”


It’s this work that strengthened Kraayveld’s belief that the United States is doing the right thing in Afghanistan.


“We’re doing an amazing amount of good over there,” he said in a separate interview.


“One village at a time, we’re changing the country.”


Kraayveld didn’t tell the kids that he lost members of his unit in Afghanistan. But he acknowledged it afterward.


As for himself: “Lots of close calls. Bullets. I was definitely protected.


“Most definitely.”



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