Partner of killed GI wants new Afghanistan mission

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 5:26 AM

Three years ago, Rose Loving got the visit every GI's family fears.

On March 29, 2006, uniformed soldiers showed up on her doorstep to give her the bad news: Her live-in partner, Sgt. First Class John Thomas Stone, a 52-year-old Army National Guard medic, had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

Now, as the world waits for President Barack Obama's decision on the U.S. military's future role in Afghanistan, she's not rooting for withdrawal, and she isn't sure more troops is the answer.

Her idea: Change the mission to include more emphasis on building schools.

"When you give people that are so poor and have so little opportunity an opportunity that they can create something for themselves, simply helping to provide them with a building they can go to school in, or some businesses they can survive or support themselves on, they are less susceptible to terrorists that come in and say `Oh, I'll give you food, I'll take care of you, this is what we want you to do.'

"It's along those lines that we need to think," she said.

Obama is considering several options to increase the number of troops fighting in Afghanistan, including a recommendation by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to send in about 40,000 additional U.S. forces next year. Officials have told The AP a scaled-down version of that request is gaining favor, but that no final decision has been made.

In Vermont, the decision will be watched closely. The wars have taken a big toll on the state, which has lost 22 people in Iraq and has the highest per-capita casualty rate among states, at 3.54 per 100,000 of population.

U.S. and allied forces are already building and repairing schools in local villages around Afghanistan, as well as digging wells and providing other services to win local support. Afghan troops distribute school supplies to areas where no coalition forces are present.

However, the results are uneven. Some units find that success in winning over locals through such projects varies throughout the country, with results low in areas where the Taliban enjoys broad support.

Stone is the only Vermont serviceman killed in action in Afghanistan.

The free-spirited National Guardsman, known to fellow troops as "Doc," died in a friendly fire incident at Forward Operating Base Robinson, an outpost in southern Afghanistan.

An embedded tactical trainer, he was hit by machine gun fire on a roof where he had gone to help repel an attack by Taliban forces. Also killed was Canadian Forces Pvt. Robert Costall, 22.

A Special Forces soldier fired the fatal shots.

Stone originally joined the Army in 1971 in part to find out what happened to his brother, a civilian photographer who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 with Sean Flynn, the son of actor Errol Flynn. He was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was killed.

Loving, 57, a yoga instructor who lived with him for six years, has Stone's medals, photographs and letters in three "shrines" in the hilltop home they once shared, which is 4 1/2 miles up a dirt road in the rural eastern Vermont town of Tunbridge.

She has helped the Vermont nonprofit group Direct Aid International raise $40,000 to build three schools in Stone's name in Afghanistan.

On a bigger scale, she says, such efforts could help the U.S. mission.

"There are so many people we could honor, if that's how you want to do it. There are all these people that just wanted to be a part of this project. I opened the door, and they all flooded in. It's got this energy on its own. If that can happen, in this simple little way, what if all over this country that happened? What if we just kept doing school after school after school after school?" said Loving.

She says she's nervous about the pending deployment of about 1,500 Vermont National Guard members to Afghanistan, where they're to help train Afghan army and police.

"I have fear and I feel nervous about it. I don't ever want another person to have to go through this, I honestly don't. I stop short of saying `Let's get out' because I think that we've started something. I think that we can turn it and do something a little bit different with our intent. That to me, would feel a little more complete," she said.