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.”
‘I KNOW, BA BA’
Wilhite said the state of education in Afghanistan before work began was extremely limited.
“They were trying to re-establish their higher education system but it was a slow process,” he said.
About 6 percent of the Afghanistan population is younger than age 55, according to the most recent estimates in the CIA World Factbook. About 28 percent of the people age 15 and older can read and write, and of those 43.1 percent are males and 12.6 percent are female. School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education) is eight years — 10 years for males and six years for females.
In 2004, 352 candidates applied for the first class of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan; in 2012, there were almost 6,000 applicants, and the current enrollment is up 3,000-plus. Current faculty number 300-plus, up from the initial 25 faculty. In 2009, women were admitted.
“It is forecasted that the National Academy of Afghanistan will be as large as West Point in two years,” Wilhite said. “Not bad for starting without a paperclip.”
The academy offers seven languages, Wilhite said. One candidate he visited with spoke five of them. He told the American he would become fluent in the other two.
“I said, ‘Do you know how important it will be for you to speak seven languages?’ His reply was, ‘I know, Ba Ba (Dari for “father”). One day I will be president of Afghanistan.’ These cadets are the top 1 percent of the students academically so that was not an unusual dream.”
The plain-spoken Oklahoman said he hopes the Afghan military will be successful, but expects the organization will experience major growing pains. Afghans consider him to be the “Father of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan.” He is also revered as an exceptional goodwill ambassador for America.
The rest of the retired colonel’s story is part of his book “We Answered the Call: Building the Crown Jewel of Afghanistan.” His story will also be told via a film. The draft screenplay has been completed and he is currently seeking financing for either a full-length film or a documentary.
For more information about Wilhite and to buy his book, visit the website of Tate Publishing: weansweredthecall.tateauthor.com.
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Most war stories, it seems, involve American men, weapons and immediately quantifiable valor.
- Local News
Camping limits enacted at Arcadia Lake
The Edmond City Council approved a 14-day limit consecutively for camping at Arcadia Lake this week. The vote was 4-0.
The Fish & Game Commission approved the recommendation in February when Edmond Parks and Recreation Director Craig Dishman discussed the policy. A camper can move to any site within the 14-day limit, Dishman said.
“They can go to another park at Arcadia Lake — to Scissor Tail or Central State Park — something like that,” Dishman said. “We’re trying to minimize the permanent residents that has kind of taken place out there.”
The new ordinance is consistent with state parks in Oklahoma, he said. It would be in effect from March 1 through Oct. 31.
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Crews battle Logan County wildfire
Crews from multiple fire departments battle a wildfire in the vicinity of Liberty Lake in Logan County. At about 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, a Logan County deputy reported the fire located near the northwest end of the lake, said Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow. Firefighters from Guthrie, Oak Cliff, Deer Creek, Crescent and Coyle responded. Harlow said cause of the fire, which was burning brush piles in a wooded area, was not known. A county bulldozer was going to the scene to knock down the brush piles. Due to high winds, low humidity and brisk winds the area was under a Red Flag Warning until 8 p.m. Thursday. A wind advisory was in effect until 7 a.m. Wednesday. At 3:53 p.m. Tuesday, humidity was 25 percent, winds were gusting to 28 mph and the temperature was 79 degrees at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport. The National Weather Service stated outdoor burning is not recommended. Citizens are urged to report smoke to their local fire department.
Forrest Gump actor says he wants to help America’s Lieutenant Dans
It is important to build a community of support around a wounded warrior, actor Gary Sinise said.
Sinise visited Scott Sabolich Prosthetics and Research in Oklahoma City on Tuesday to help change the life of an American hero. He was accompanied by retired U.S. Army SSG Rusty Dunagan of Edmond, a triple amputee injured in Afghanistan.
Edmond’s new board member takes oath of office
Cynthia Benson took the oath of office as the Edmond Public School District’s newest school board member Monday.
Benson was elected by voters to represent District 4 in the Feb. 11 election by a vote of 253 to 217 defeating Stephanie Bills.
Judge sets trial date in Arcadia double homicide
An Oklahoma County judge has scheduled an October trial date for the defendant charged in the Arcadia Independence Day 2013 double homicide.
Court issues arrest warrant in Edmond case
An Oklahoma County judge has issued an arrest warrant for a Deer Creek man facing felony drug and firearm charges.
Guthrie gains surplus armored vehicle
The City of Guthrie recently received a six-wheel drive BAE Caiman MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protective) into its fleet.
The MRAPs are retired military vehicles made available to law enforcement agencies nationwide through local law enforcement support organizations operating under the Federal Surplus Property Donation Program and the Department of Defense.
Guthrie Chief of Police Damon Devereaux said his department has participated in the surplus property program in the past and decided to bid for the MRAP.
USGS records 3.7 magnitude quake near Langston
A 3.7 magnitude earthquake occurred Tuesday morning in Logan County.
At 7:55 a.m., the quake occurred 3 miles south-southwest of Langston and 20 miles northeast of Edmond, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Residents in Langston, Guthrie, Wellston, Nicoma Park, Enid, Stillwater and Broken Arrow reported feeling the tremor on the USGS’ “Did You Feel It?” page.
Santa Fe High presents Pirates of Penzance
The “Pirates of Penzance” is one of the most popular light operas of all times. It is filled with humorous musical numbers, lots of action, some spoken dialogue to further the plot, a happy ending and a good-natured lampooning of traditional Italian opera.
3-11 Found Pets
This is a list of animals that have been found and are at the Edmond Animal Shelter, at Interstate 35 and Covell in the Cross Timbers Municipal Complex. Call the shelter at 216-7615 for more information.
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- Camping limits enacted at Arcadia Lake