Airman passes on experience from Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Whitney Rogers
Driving conditions constantly kept Capt. Matt Laubacher on his toes as he traveled in convoys around the country. 

Most of the convoys he went on were short, but always stressful. Approximately a dozen car bombs detonated in Kabul during the six months he was stationed there. 

Captain Laubacher, Arnold Engineering Development Center Financial Plans, Programs and Cost, recently returned from a six-month deployment to Camp Eggers in Afghanistan, where he was assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan. 

"The roads are crowded, so it would be like driving through Nashville wondering who's got a car of explosives that's trying to pull up beside the Americans and blow them up," he said. 

Captain Laubacher experienced a bombing July 7, 2008, that he will never forget. 

While visiting the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Indian Embassy across the street fell under attack after a suicide car bomb detonated. The bomb detonated near the gates where Afghans assembled to apply for visas and killed more than 40 people and injured at least 150 others. 

The blast knocked Captain Laubacher against a wall and glass shattered over him. "It was loud. It was the loudest thing I've ever heard in my life," said Captain Laubacher. 

"It was one of those things that after it happened, we went inside the building and checked each other out and made sure everybody was safe around us." 

AK-47 shells were wrapped around the bomb and flew around the MOI like shrapnel when it detonated. 

An intended target was a man who was blown three stories in the air and landed on top of the embassy. He was found dead three hours after the bombing. 

After that day, Captain Laubacher never took off his protective vest and helmet until he was inside a secure building at the MOI. 

"It set the tone - anytime, anywhere, you never know where it's coming from. It's dangerous," he said. 

Because part of his assignment required him to travel to different locations in the country by helicopters and convoys, he saw different places in Afghanistan. Most of the country was uninhabitable - it was either mountains or desert and had hardly any water. 

"Anything that was nice has been destroyed. Most of the cities are in shambles," said Captain Laubacher. "It's like Genesis and Exodus in the Bible. A lot of attitudes are very tied to that type of thinking and ideals." 

During convoys to the airport, MOI or other bases, Captain Laubacher was able to get a closer look at the run down, unsanitary conditions Afghans live in. 

"We would see a fruit stand and we wouldn't eat a piece of fruit from there, not in a million years, not if we were starving to death," he said. 

Traveling around the country gave Captain Laubacher the opportunity to interact with the locals. Most contact he had with Afghans was through his job, where he monitored and tracked pay for the Afghan National Police and process improvement for their pay system. 

Captain Laubacher talked with the Afghans and took pictures with them while he worked at Afghan National Police training sites. Once Captain Laubacher made a personal connection with the Afghans, he felt they changed their opinion of him. The Afghans he connected with waved at him, said hello and shook his hand. 

"It was like I connected with them on a different level than 'there's that American soldier and they've got guns,'" he said. "They don't look at you like, 'given the chance, I'd cut your head off.'" 

In spite of the constant turmoil Afghanistan was in, Captain Laubacher had compassion for the Afghan children he saw around the country. 

"They are born into that situation, they don't choose to be in that situation," he said. "You hope they have a future - they don't have to live with the explosions their whole life." 

Throughout his deployment, interacting with the children at the local bazaar, handing out Blow Pops and taking pictures with them, enabled Captain Laubacher to let his own children know how lucky they were. 

He sent his children pictures of the Afghan children and one of his daughter's commented about a boy in one of the pictures wearing a girl's shirt. Captain Laubacher explained to his daughter that the clothes Afghan children wore is all they had. If a girl's shirt is what they had, then they wore it. They did not have the luxuries of most American children. 

His experiences enabled him to show his own children how good their life was simply because they were raised in America.