Coming home

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:36

Woodbury highway superintendent returns after building police stations in Afghanistan, By Ginny Privitar Highland Mills - Since he returned home on Sept. 25, Pete Stabile has put away his 9mm handgun. He has learned to drive a bit slower and to stop at red lights again. He’s forgotten how his office phone works and has to ask his secretary, Sheila Beadle, for his password. One time she “came in and she slammed the door—and I almost—I jumped out of the chair,” he recalled recently. “You know, I jumped out of the chair right away. She goes, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—I didn’t realize.’ “It’s small things like that, that do come back.” Things may not be entirely back to normal, but Pete Stabile is home. Home for Stabile is Highland Mills, where he lives with his wife Joanne. Home is also the town of Woodbury, where he is the longtime highway superintendent. But for 12 months between October 2009 and September 2010, Stabile served as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. While there, Stabile celebrated his 59th birthday and in November 2009 was reelected back home to his position as superintendent of the Woodbury Highway Department. Stabile was one of three Americans assigned to a German military base of 600-plus at PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) Feyzabad, in a rugged area of northern Afghanistan. Their main mission is to stabilize and improve the local economy and infrastructure. The Corps of Engineers was there to help build 20 police stations throughout northern Afghanistan and a large medical clinic by contracting with local workers. The Germans trained the Afghan National Police. Once they finished training, Afghans would take over the new police stations. ‘John Wayne landing’ Stabile consulted on construction of police stations and the medical clinic; he also was responsible for the safety of groups of civilians involved with these projects on inspection visits. He had ultimate responsibility for deciding if and when they could fly to different locations, based on intelligence gathering. When Stabile and others would fly in to inspect police stations, “we (would) never told them when we were coming, how we were coming.” If the base wasn’t secured when the helicopter landed, Stabile added, “we did what we called the John Wayne landing: We’d swoop in and jump out of the helicopter and we’d have the Germans secure the area. Then, the Afghan police in that area would come out running and form a perimeter around the helicopter; they would encircle us as we were inspecting the police station.” Stabile then added: “We never took anything for granted. When I was on the base, I had a 9mm strapped to my leg 24 hours a day. I had it when I took a shower, when I went to the bathroom—that was part of the requirement, living on that base.” Constantly alert Being in downtown Feyzabad required being constantly alert. “There were people all over. There was no way to secure it.,” Stabile said. “You can have a person walk up, out of nowhere, with an AK-47, fire a shot … place it down on the ground and walk into the crowd and you can’t find him. Stabile related an incident at Bagram medical clinic. “There was a shadow on a (nearby) roof. I couldn’t see it (clearly) and the Germans couldn’t see it, but we had it in the cross hairs and ready to shoot. We just saw movement. “We had safeties off, ready to go, until the doctor came running out of the clinic, saying, ‘No, No ! Don’t shoot! I know who it is!’ And we said, ‘Doc, get him off that roof and get him off now.’ “We find out later it’s a 14 year-old kid working on his dad’s roof.” Attacks were infrequent, but sadly there were casualties. Stabile’s base lost seven German troops who were ambushed on a bridge while out on patrol. Another soldier was seriously injured when a convoy was attacked. ‘2,000 years behind us’ The remote areas of Afghanistan “are like 2,000 years behind us.… They have no running water, no sanitation, no windows in the houses, no doors. They don’t have stoves; they cook in a hole in the ground.” But things are improving in the big cities, Stabile said. There are opportunities there now “because they are putting in infrastructure, water, sewer and electric. They’re building apartment buildings, they’re building stores, schools, medical clinics.” Stabile feels the American public doesn’t hear about good things for “the simple reason … because the media doesn’t want to show the good; they just want to show the bad — that’s what sells ad time or newspapers.” Stabile, his fellow Americans and their German buddies would get on Facebook or Google to lessen the distance from home. “A lot of things that kept us going … a lot of stupid things that people took for granted here (at home), but over there it meant a lot. When you get on Facebook and you see your friends, your relatives and just by talking of what’s going on, like, ‘Hey, I went to a football game this weekend’ or ‘little Johnny Jones made his first touchdown.’ You start laughing and you see the pictures and it’s like being home. And it makes you feel a lot better.” Counting his time in the Army, National Guard and Reserves, Stabile has a total of 40 years service to his country. This Veterans’ Day, Stabile is on vacation in Arkansas, visiting his grandchildren and son Peter Jr. and his wife. That’s part of getting back to normal.