Park City soldier, a Purple Heart winner, tells tales of the strife in Afghanistan
August, Adam Kelley had already learned what it felt like, what it sounded like, to be close to an explosion in a war zone.
Kelley, a member of the Utah Army National Guard and a Purple Heart winner for an injury he sustained after a roadside bomb exploded outside his armored truck in Iraq in 2008, was in the driver’s seat of a military vehicle in August in Afghanistan, where he has been deployed since July.
The military vehicle, an armored troop carrier, was parked outside the city of Khost when the driver of a small Toyota veered toward the vehicle Kelley was inside. It was a suicide bomber, and Kelley’s vehicle, which was parked, was the target. The Toyota, traveling at perhaps 10 mph, at the most, hit Kelley’s vehicle.
The suicide bomber wanted the 250 pounds of explosive packed into the Toyota to explode. They did not. The man, wearing a vest weighed down with more explosives, set the ones in the vest off in a final assault against the American soldiers. None of the Americans were injured, Kelley said. The man, who Kelley said appeared to be in his early 20s, was killed.
"You floor it," Kelley said in a December interview at his family’s house in Park Meadows about his reaction as the driver veered toward the armored troop carrier. "If it does go off, at least you might get some distance from it."
The military gave Kelley, who is 25 years old and has been a National Guardsman for five years, two weeks of leave during the holidays to spend with his family in Park City. He is scheduled to return to Afghanistan on Jan. 5 and expects to be stationed there until June. Kelley’s base in Afghanistan is in the northeast part of the country, a mountainous area 40 miles from the border with Pakistan. He spent 12 months in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Kelley’s team — between four and eight people — spends each day searching for roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices and then disposing of them. Kelley must look for wires, an indication there could be a bomb nearby, and triggermen. Lamp cords and copper wire are popular triggers with the insurgents who make the bombs, Kelley said.
The insurgents, which Kelley ties to Taliban loyalists, have fought more in recent months, he said, indicating they are using new sorts of homemade explosive devices. They are "more gutsy on attacking us," Kelley said, also using the word "crafty" in his description of the tactics used by the insurgents. Everyday Afghans have become more hesitant in offering assistance to the American forces out of fear of the Taliban loyalists, he said.
"They live off the fear of the people. They make people afraid," Kelley said.
For the U.S. to succeed in Afghanistan, Kelley said, the Afghans need to take on a more important role. The Afghan military and the police in Afghanistan are being trained by the Americans and need to be further involved, he said.
Kelley, a lifelong Parkite who is a grandson of the late Korean War veteran Jim Santy, a beloved Park City figure, still suffers headaches from the 2008 roadside bombing in Iraq. He is considering options after August, when he fulfills his contract to the Utah Army National Guard,
He is unsure whether he will re-enlist. If he does not, Kelley said he would return to Park City. In that case, he would consider training to become a helicopter pilot.
In another tense episode in Afghanistan, Kelley recalls his team finding someone fidgeting with something in the road in November. The person was working on a roadside bomb and walked off.
Kelley was a spotter that day and watched as the American troops arrested the man. But at about the same time a tractor driver drove over the bomb, triggering the explosive. Kelley said the driver was killed and someone else in the tractor was injured.
Kelley said the man who was seen working on the roadside bomb was sentenced to death by hanging.
"If we released him, he would have been killed by the villagers," Kelley said.
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Court report: Week of June 22