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When President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American military forces, Army Staff Sgt. Dirk McComas, was in California visiting with his brother Darrenn, and packing as many visits with family and friends as he could into his 14-day leave from Afghanistan.
“My first thought when I saw it on the TV was, awesome, we got him,” said McComas. “My next thought was, it’s going to get bad really quick. I need to get back there.”
McComas, whose family lives in Williamstown, is a staff sergeant with Easy Company, the 506th Infantry Regiment unit assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division. He has been in Afghanistan since August.
Although, Bin Laden, who created and funded the Al Qaeda terror network, which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, had been on the run for nearly 10 years, McComas wasn’t surprised about the outcome.
“You can run, and you can hide, but you can’t hide forever,” McComas said.
“The intelligence community—the resources are so vast, there’s nowhere to hide forever.”
He said that he wasn’t surprised that Bin Laden was found in Pakistan, but a little surprised that the location was in such close proximity of their military training center.
McComas makes a distinction between the terror networks of Al Qaeda, Taliban and the local Afghan people who live in the east Paktika Province. He said that American forces have made inroads with the population, convincing them that cooperation with the Taliban is not in their best interest in the long-run. Something as simple as joining in a game of cricket, which is one of their main forms of recreation, has helped build trust and relationships.
“They’re farmers,” he said. “If I could relate it to anything over here, the place where I’m at is like Jonesville. It’s real small, with one store. They’re wood cutters. Only a certain part of Afghanistan grow trees well. Nowhere else has trees. These guys cut wood and go down and sell it to people in areas that don’t have trees. They raise a lot of grains and have donkeys, cows and a lot of goats.”
He has empathy for the people and says there are many barriers to overcome. Most speak little or no English. Some just choose not to talk to Americans; but he says that illiteracy is the greatest weapon used by the Taliban, who operate there.
“There’s no education system,” McComas said. “That’s one of they main ways the Taliban gets these people. They say, ‘this is what the Koran says,’ and these people can’t read, so they don’t know what the Koran says.”
He also said that the Taliban tries to move in and monopolize any strides the Afghan people make. Many Afghan people feel a sense of hopelessness because, whatever gains they make in life are likely to be taken away by the Taliban who oppress them. He also believes his mission is bigger that Osama bin Laden.
“That’s the thing—we’re not there just searching for one guy,” he said. “We’re there to help those people and this isn’t going to be over anytime soon, in my mind. We’ll be there 15 years from now. It’s the way the people are, the way that everything is split-up in tribes, and the terrain. It’s going to take years for us to accomplish the mission that we’re there for.”
When he looks at his 17-month-old son, Linkon and his wife, Allie, this soldier fights tears, yet he is still thinking about his friends in the field and remains in constant touch with them.
“I wouldn’t really say they’re on edge, but they have a heightened sense of security,” he said. “My guys are ready for the fight. We know it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when and where. ”
When he returns from Afghanistan in August, he’ll go to Fort Campbell for a couple of months and then be stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. He is the son of Dwight and Marlene McComas of Williamstown.