Local soldier keeping watch in Afghanistan

Published: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 1:18 a.m.
BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN - A year after the United States began its military operation to free Afghanistan from the Taliban's oppressive rule, the son of a Gainesville couple continues to play an important role in helping to keep American service members safe in a still dangerous land.
Army Pfc. Mathew Popejoy, son of Kyle and Margarita Popejoy, is deployed to this isolated, dust-ridden outpost in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He and the more than 4,000 other service members deployed to this former Soviet air base work in a wide variety of jobs, ranging from construction engineers to helicopter crew members.
Popejoy is a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, normally stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"I'm an infantryman and part of the quick reaction force here at the base," said the 1999 graduate of Buchholz High School.
"Our job is to go out and respond to any emergencies that may occur outside of the base. If an aircraft goes down or the enemy is spotted, we're the first to get the call to go out and secure the area. I also spend time guarding the base's perimeter."
Bagram is the headquarters for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well as the home of the Air Force's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft. Located about 80 miles north of Aghanistan's capital city of Kabul, the base remains a work in progress.
When American forces first arrived to the bomb-wracked base, little remained from when the Soviets occupied it. Since then, however, service members have repaired the air strip, constructed tents and swept the area free of its many land mines.
The creature comforts that exist on American soil, however, remain a memory for Popejoy.
Running water, heating and air conditioning, tents rigged for electricity and hot showers are just a few of the things that are hard to find on this camp.
And the dust storms that turn the late afternoon sky brown pose a challenge to operations conducted around the camp.
In spite of these conditions, however, Popejoy said that being part of Operation Enduring Freedom makes up for any hardships he may encounter.
"Being here has been an experience to say the least, and I believe we are accomplishing our mission," he said. "It's not always easy being here, but I think what we are doing here is good and I'm proud to be here and to help get the job done."
"I miss all my family and friends back home, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone once our job here is done," he said.
"I'm probably going to be here through the holiday season, and that will also be tough, but I'm hoping I'll be able to at least see the Gators play in a bowl game, even though it won't be for the national championship."

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