Special to the Tribune-Star
For many Americans, Veterans Day is all too often just another day off from work; a chance to enjoy an extended weekend. But for thousands of men and women who defend our republic in the vast stretches of Afghanistan, it is one more day of war; one more day to seek out and engage a cunning and determined enemy.
This is my second tour in Afghanistan, and my fourth Veterans Day deployed overseas. Every day I watch the best and the bravest of America’s young men and women as they put their lives on the line to defend the country they love. I recently had the chance to spend some time with one of those American heroes, with whom I share not only the same hometown but the same high school alma mater as well.
Sgt. Zach Runyan is a paratrooper with the famed 82nd “All-American” Infantry Division. Zach is a close friend of my oldest son, Stephen. Like me, Zach is from Terre Haute, and like me, he is a graduate of South Vigo High School.
Zach graduated in 2006; I was in a slightly earlier class: 1975. Zach was always quick with a smile and easy to make your acquaintance. After high school, he joined the Army, and volunteered for the demanding and dangerous trade of the paratrooper. When I was called back to active duty in late 2011, Zach was already in Afghanistan and based at Kandahar Airfield. When I was boots on the ground I looked him up; Sgt. Runyan also spent some time at my FOB (Forward Operating Base) at Tarin Kowt.
Despite our differences in rank and age, we shared the common bound of comradeship forged by war and separation from family and friends. Sgt. Runyan is a superb soldier and a warrior who should make everyone in the Wabash Valley proud. It was remarkable to see the young man I had known for so many years as a seasoned veteran and confident and capable leader. We both enjoyed the chance to reminisce about Terre Haute and the friends and loved ones we miss.
Sgt. Runyan is one of those heroes that you should remember today. He endures the trials of wartime deployment with a sense of humor and the strength and courage expected of a paratrooper. Many Americans have lost their faith in our republic and expect only catastrophe and collapse. My chance to serve with extraordinary warriors like Sgt. Zach Runyan convinces me otherwise. Our armed forces are filled with dedicated and brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
The finest young men and women in our country have left their homes and loved ones to serve and defend our great nation in distant lands. Some of them never come home. They should be an inspiration to every American patriot that the greatest days of the United States are yet to come.
Sgt. Zach Runyan and his generation have answered the call of duty. Their selfless service, courage and sacrifice should fill every American with pride and hope this Veterans Day.
— Lt. Col. Hal Johnston
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
Multi-National Base Tarin Kowt