Most war stories, it seems, involve American men, weapons and immediately quantifiable valor.
This story involves the use of brains and books to further the fight for freedom in America’s continuing, longest war.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan, according to the CIA World Factbook. The nation served as a buffer between the British and Russian empires until it won its independence from national British control in 1919.
During the 1970s, a coup and a communist counter-coup crushed a fledgling democracy. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to bolster the communist regime, sparking conflict. A decade later, after suffering mounting losses from the internationally supported mujahedin rebels, the Soviets withdrew.
In 1996, the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, a hardlined Pakistani-sponsored movement. A few years later, terrorists hijacked airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on U.S. soil.
U.S. intelligence linked the terrorist plot to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, which maintained training camps in Afghanistan. A U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban. As of 10 a.m. Friday, 2,153 Americans have died and 19,464 have been wounded during Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the Department of Defense. The war dead have included heroes from Edmond and many other communities in Oklahoma.
‘IT WAS MY DUTY’
Edmond resident James Wilhite was interested in the military since he was a child. He wanted to continue his education while serving and he joined the Army Reserves in 1966.
Wilhite’s initial experience of being a teacher was through the military. In 1969, he attended a drill sergeant academy and was assigned as an instructor there.
“It gave me the chance to stand in front of a group with confidence,” he said.
He remained in the reserve because of the sense of brotherhood that was developed, and much of what he was doing could crossover to the teaching field. Wilhite, professor emeritus from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, spent 26 years in higher education.
In 2003, Wilhite was called to serve his country with the Army in Afghanistan. He said the jolt is tough to put into words.
“To say it was a shock is an understatement,” he said. “However, it was my duty to answer the call.”
Wilhite’s task was no small order — organizing the Afghan military academy, a university equivalent with no allotted budget and no full-time staff. Other challenges included working with the tribal factions to agree to a common outcome. And he was given less than a year to complete the job.
He spoke about his team.
“I compared it to putting everyone in a rowboat and rowing across a wide river,” he said. “Not everyone pulled their weight and some faced the opposite direction but at least kept their oars out of the water. Others were volunteers that just wanted to see this mission succeed.”