By LINDSAY OLIVIER
Special to The Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN - Many 25 year-olds have either graduated college, or have been working in the “real world” for a few years but for one North Kingstown resident, life is about a little bit more than that.
For Bryan Groves, who graduated from North Kingstown High School in 2006 and the University of Rhode Island in 2010 and soon after was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), life revolves around serving your country.
The 25-year-old platoon leader of 22 recently returned home from a year in Afghanistan and brought with him a Bronze Star from the U.S. Army for his actions during missions where his troop dealt with daily gun fire from the Taliban.
“It’s such a great feeling to receive this award and I feel so proud,” he said. “But there’s no way I could have done this without my men. We all worked together and looked out for each other.”
The Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that is awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. It’s the fourth-highest combat award and the ninth highest military award.
Groves’ troop’s mission was to help the Afghan National Army (ANA) begin to take control over their country and to break down the Taliban.
“Our platoon showed the ANA how to set up road-side checkpoints to search vehicles for any explosives,” Groves said. “The ANA have no formal training and one day we’re going to hand over all power to them. They’ll have the power to arrest and prosecute and they need to know all the tools necessary to do their job.”
Like many young men and women who’ve entered the armed forces in the past 10 years, Groves said his decision to do so was the result of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It was then that he realized he had a responsibility to his country.
“I’ve always been very patriotic and knew I had to do something after the attacks,” he said.
Grove had spent the past year stationed at an outpost in the Lashman Province, Afghanistan, located in the mountain region where the climate was tropical and monkeys and snakes made their home at the camp. His platoon was involved in over 200 missions during his deployment, his first.
At times the platoon soldiers would sit with locals and, through interpreters, discuss problems they may have with the government and try to give advice. Groves said the locals were very appreciative the U.S. Army was there and were they eager to learn.
The troops also worked to locate and eradicate acres of opium poppy fields which are the main ingredient to morphine and heroin. According to the U.S. Army, poppy has been used by the Taliban to finance their attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces for more than a decade.
“Once we found the fields, we would use a machete and cut them all down,” Groves said.
Completing missions was never easy as Groves and his platoon had to dodge enemy fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“A few of the IEDs blew up and some of my men sustained minor injuries,” he said. “It wasn’t uncommon that while driving we would come upon vehicles that had been blown to pieces.”
The tricky part about the Taliban, he said, is that they are often dressed like locals and, sometimes, gunfire would be as close as 1,000 meters from the troops.
Groves said that prior to U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan, locals couldn’t get basic items but, over the years, roads have been built, water irrigation systems have been put in place and many more improvements made to the country.
“My platoon helped to build many roads and what would have taken days to get from one place to another, now takes no time at all,” he said. “These infrastructures are not only helping the locals but also the ANA.”
Groves arrived home for a block leave on Aug. 13 but it was only for two weeks as he is set to return to Fort Bliss, Texas where he’ll continue training for another possible deployment.
While home, he said he caught up on some much needed relaxation and visited with friends and family but he is excited to return to training.
“The biggest accomplishment from the past year is that I was able to lead my platoon during the missions and achieve great things for the ANA and safety for the locals.” he said.