Mrs. Radich’s Son Reflects on 9/11

Remembering 9/11

By Jan Klooster

CADILLAC – The world remembers 9/11.

In 2001 on this day, many of its citizens were glued to TV sets in living rooms, in classrooms, tears flowing no matter what country they called home or who they believed in – unable to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The high school in Canada where I was a teacher suspended classes for the day, the students and staff gathering in one place to watch and pray, horrified, in pain for our neighbors to the south.

Extremists intentionally had commandeered four planes of ordinary and unsuspecting travelers and pointed them directly into significant American buildings, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The fourth hijacked plane, averted by passengers, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3000 innocent people died.

A shocked world grieved.

Investigations by the FBI identified the 19 hijackers and connected them to al-Qaeda, a militant Islamic group founded around 1988 and dedicated to terrorism. It was found to be operating in multiple nations including Afghanistan, where it ran training camps and financed a brutal regime, the Taliban, to gain power over the peaceful Afghani people.

Below is the story of one veteran who personally has fought to break the hold of oppression in Afghanistan.

The War in Afghanistan began in October 2001 in direct response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Operation Enduring Freedom, as the offensive was called, began specifically to remove safe havens in Afghanistan of those who claimed responsibility – al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters who were using the mountainous country to plan raids and teach others terrorizing techniques.

American and coalition forces ousted the Taliban regime from Afghanistan – mostly – but the subsequent U.S.-backed administration under President Karzai has endured many attempts by insurgents to bring it down, by suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and direct fighting.

Chris Radich, a student at Oxford Christian School in Michigan, was 16 years old at the time of 9/11. Seven years later, he was in that ravaged Afghan country by choice, having answered a call he had felt “since the age of two” to serve in the U.S. military.

Specialist Christopher Radich, at 23, a Cavalry Scout in the U.S. Army 126th Squadron, touched ground in Afghanistan on Dec. 16, 2008. There, he was part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He returned to Michigan a year later, on Dec. 4, 2009. Now, he is part of the National Guard in Cadillac and comes monthly from Southfield, Mich. for military duties.

“I would definitely live there if I would not be shot at all the time. The snow-covered mountains – waking up and seeing that is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “And the people, they are amazing. They don’t do everything that’s in the news. All they want is to live their lives and not have a dictatorship. They’re very friendly.

“We did a lot of aid drops of clothes, toys, etc. Their idea of fun is chasing camels and donkeys. They don’t have TVs; the majority are nomads.

“The people are outstanding. Now, the people who were shooting at us, we don’t like them, but the people in the towns were good. The Taliban have a strong communication system. I think that President Karzai is trying to do the best job he can,” Radich said.

His love for his mission, his country and the Afghan people is clear.

Radich said that he started out in Kabul, population one million, at an elevation of 5,900 feet. Its location is near the Khyber Pass, crucial in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Kabul, Radich served as a mentor for the Embedded Training Team whose mission it was to train the Afghanis on logistics and weapons: “how to be a soldier, pretty much,” to about 100 Afghanis.

“They are pretty amazing people, very giving, but it was hard to get through to them. They were like little children sometimes, 18- to 20-year olds, mostly, but some were in their 30s. Some kids looked very young.

“You can understand the language to a certain point, but to speak it was much more difficult. I had an interpreter with me,” he said.

Radich said that the training his ETT team gave the Afghani soldiers was very successful.

After two months, however, the team broke up and Radich was sent to the south. He started out at Kandahar, where he was about to be a gunner on a truck but was transferred in a month to the southern district of Zabul, to Forward Operating Base Apache.

There, Radich was part of Team Nomad, a small group of servicemen who served as a police mentor training team.

“We ran missions every day,” he explained, “consisting of tracking the enemy, following insurgents’ movements by following Intel, showing Afghan police how to run blockades, how to spot vehicles that don’t look like ordinary vehicles. It’s quite ordinary to see bags of rice stacked 20 feet in the air.”

He was fired upon many times, he said, “pretty much all of June and July.” He had colleagues who died. Those months were hard, he said.

“We were coming back from Kandahar and everything was normal and then the truck hit an IED.” He was in the truck but survived.

“Would you go back?” I asked.

“That’s a tricky question,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t want to leave. Now that I am home, I see all that occurred and at night, I think of all the bullets whizzing past your head.”

Radich added that although he would not again volunteer for Afghanistan, he’d be “on a plane tomorrow, if asked.”

Radich now works at Avis Ford dealership as a car salesman. He said that the reason he joined the army in the first place was his older brother, who also is in the army. “He told me it was the thing to do. ‘If you really want to grow up, go into the military,’ he said.”

And Chris did. He went to Iraq first for a year. But he extended his duty and went to Afghanistan for another year. “I never even came home in between,” he said.

His parents live in Oxford and have been very supportive, as have his brother and sister. His Roman Catholic faith has helped, as well.

“Especially when the bullets were flying,” he said. “I tried to spend time reading the Bible. Now, it’s nice to be able to go to Mass every night.”

Radich is getting married on October 23, 2010. He was dating and talking about marriage when he was in Afghanistan but didn’t propose to Emily Bousson until he returned, on Valentine’s Day.

When asked how he’d managed Christmases so far away, Radich said, “It was very difficult. But they cooked us a special dinner. I’ve been gone a couple of Christmases, a couple of birthdays, a couple of anniversaries. It all becomes the same day in your mind.

“I joined the military to grow up. I worked at this (Ford) dealership before I left, and they say they have seen a 100 percent turnaround when I came back.”

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