Sept. 11: A letter from one still serving
By 1st Lt. Mason Rick
(Editor's note: Rick knew in high school that he would join the Army. He was a Junior ROTC cadet and enrolled in the ROTC program at Xavier as a freshman. He graduated from Xavier in May 2010 and is a fire support officer for C Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Rick is deployed to Kunar Province, Afghanistan, and expects to return to his base at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, next April. He was a close friend of Michael Runyan, who was killed in Aghanistan three months after attending Rick’s wedding. Rick sent emails about his experiences to date.)
I went to William Henry Harrison High School in Evansville, Ind. There I joined the JROTC program about a month before 9/11 happened. I was always interested in the Army. My Dad and I are war movie junkies, so that is what I think sparked my interest. As I got closer to graduating high school, I learned more about XU and ROTC.
In JROTC you have no military commitment, but people always asked me if I was going to stick with it because of the war. I didn't think of it that way. The war wasn't my deciding factor for whether I was going to do ROTC, and I found it funny, odd, interesting, that people did think that way. I wanted to join the Army for the experience, excitement, adventure and to serve my country. Joining the Army was the best way to do all of those things.
When I graduated high school, I got accepted to XU. My Dad and I went to visit and we both fell in love with the campus and the people. I went in for my ROTC scholarship interview and was given one on the spot. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.
While I was at XU, I met my wife Liz. We both lived in Kuhlman Hall freshman year. We got married right after she finished her Master of Occupational Therapy, and she moved to Hawaii. She has done a great job making the adjustment to Army life. After being here for a little less than four months now, I see that the toughest job in the Army is
that of an Army wife. It takes a strong woman to successfully fill that role. It is something that I have learned over the last two years.
Michael Runyan was a year older than me, and I looked to him as a mentor and role model. My wife, Liz who is also a XU grad for both her graduate and undergraduate degrees, would always say that I was a lot like Mike, and that we even had the same initials. I heard about Mike's death when I was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Mike's brigade was also stationed there.
It was an honor for me to serve with Mike both at XU and then again in the 25th Infantry Division. It is a bond that I will always share with him. To remember Mike's sacrifice and what he meant to me, I wear a bracelet everyday with his name, unit, day he was killed in action (KIA), and American flag, and the 25th ID patch. It’s just a way to remind me about the sacrifice he made for me and millions of other people he will never meet.
I am the Fire Support Officer for my Company. That means I am the subject matter expert when it comes to artillery, mortars, close combat attack, which is controlling helicopters, and close air support, which is controlling fixed wing aircraft. I help plan
all of these things in support of my company's maneuvers to give them more firepower. Back in the day, XU only commissioned field artillery officers, so there is a tradition of artillerymen coming out of XU, and I am proud to be part of that.
I have been very fortunate as an artilleryman because I have gotten to do my job quite a bit. We have shot hundreds of artillery and mortar rounds and have dropped dozens of bombs in support of our company. Looking on a tactical level, our mission is to secure a road that runs through our area of operation. Americans use the road to drive out and meet with the populace, do daily patrols and as a resupply route. The Afghans use it just as we use I-71. That is how they get to work, school, the market and to the larger cities in Afghanistan.
However, the bigger mission, and what we have been working on ever since we arrived in country in April 2011, is working with the Afghan National Security Force. We are trying to build up the soldiers and policemen, as well as their systems, so they will have the ability to sustain and protect themselves and the people of Afghanistan after we leave. It is a challenge because we are starting from scratch. Afghanistan has never had a central army or very organized national government to support an army.