SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 8, 2011

Beverly soldier in Afghanistan still on guard

Beverly serviceman reflects on changes

By Paul Leighton
Staff writer

When the second plane struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the phone rang almost immediately in the command post at Fort Carson, Colo.

A young lieutenant named Jason Galui answered the call.

Galui grew up on Liberty Street in Beverly. He was a star goaltender at the Pingree School in Hamilton who was recruited to play hockey for Army at West Point.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was in charge of gate security at Fort Carson. He was ordered to close the gates, arm the guards and prepare for the possible arrival of the president of the United States, who was on his way to a nearby secure location.

As Galui was inspecting Gate 1, he ran into Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, Fort Carson's post commander.

"Who's the OIC (officer in charge) here?" Soriano said.

"I am," Galui responded.

Soriano grabbed Galui by the shirt and said, "Well, protect this post. Nothing better happen to my soldiers."

Ten years later, Galui is still on guard. He is now a 34-year-old major serving in Afghanistan as a strategic adviser to Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, commanding general of the NATO Training Mission, the coalition of 19 countries charged with training Afghan security forces.

In a telephone interview from Afghanistan, Galui said the U.S. military and NATO are making progress on their goal of turning the country over to Afghan control by the end of 2014.

When the NATO training began in 2009, nine out of 10 members of the Afghan Security Force were illiterate, Galui said.

"You're telling them to load nine out of 10 rounds into a chamber, and they can't do it because they can't count, either," he said.

Now, Afghan soldiers and police officers receive 64 hours of literacy training, with the goal of reaching first-grade level by the time they finish basic training, Galui said. That standard will be increased to third grade by 2014.

"It's challenging, but we have the time to still accomplish our goals, so that when we reduce our role in 2014, we have a force that will endure, that will be able to prevent this country from becoming a safe haven from which violent extremists can attack," Galui said.

As an adviser to Caldwell, Galui works in what he calls a "think tank" that researches ideas and offers recommendations. For example, he reviewed the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s in an attempt to learn what mistakes NATO should avoid.

Galui learned that the Soviets took Afghans back to the Soviet Union for training rather than developing institutions in Afghanistan that would endure. The Soviets also relied on conscripts rather than volunteers.

"We need to maintain a volunteer force," Galui said. "There's an intense desire to serve among the Afghans. We have no problem with recruiting."

Galui said that on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, it's important for people to remember not only those who lost their lives that day but the sacrifices of the families of those serving in the military.

Galui's wife, Samantha, and two children, 5-year-old Jacob and 21/2-year-old Stephanie, are living at West Point while Galui is overseas.

"My days go by quick, but back home for my wife and two children — there's a significant void for them," he said. "Someone else can do this job, but no one else can be a husband and father to my wife and kids."

Galui is on his second tour of duty in the Middle East. In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq and served as second-in-command of about 3,000 soldiers in an armored cavalry regiment. He led a 49-vehicle convoy into Iraq, and his unit occupied positions from Fallujah to Ramadi in the area known as the Sunni Triangle.

Galui returned to the United States and commanded a basic training company at Fort Knox in Kentucky, then taught economics, game theory and comparative politics for three years at West Point.

Last March, he was notified that he would be deployed to Afghanistan. He expects to return to the United States next summer, most likely to continue his work as an Army strategist in Washington, D.C.

"Sept. 11 has forever changed our lives," he said. "Being able to contribute in some way to the security of our nation is an honor and a privilege."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at pleighton@salemnews.com.