Staff Sergeant Dirk Sheffer

A lanky, jovial staff sergeant, Dirk Sheffer was sent into the war on terrorism on a sparkling day in October. He’d been working out in the gym at Fort Drum, in northern New York state.

“They came and said: ‘Get in uniform. Get your weapons and your rucks. No showers. Move!’ We went straight to the airfield. I didn’t have a shower for 22 days,” says Sheffer, 34, who boasts of being the only Jewish redneck sergeant in Afghanistan.

He knew, when the hijacked airliners hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that he would be going to war. So did everybody else in the 10th Mountain Division. They just didn’t know when. Or where.  But they know soldiering, and they went forward with determination and a kind of innocent goodwill, doggedness and unquenchable humor.  They got their gear together, in the familiar and frenzied routine of deployment. Hours later, they sweated and heaved onto giant cargo planes and rose heavily into darkness. From the windowless, dim interiors where they squeezed amid Humvees and assault rifles, tents, generators, duffle bags, rations, helmets, radios and rucksacks, they could see neither where they were going nor the families they’d just bid farewell. After an eternity, the interior lights switched to red and the loadmaster bawled at them and they shouldered their packs and tumbled out into Uzbekistan, a temporary staging base.

Sprawled with his combat gear on the flight line a half-mile away, Dirk Sheffer waits for the helicopters that will take his unit back into LZ Ginger. Idly, he gazes out over the ruined landscape, the shell-blasted buildings, the heaps of blackened, twisted metal, the lifeless fields sown with land mines, the scattering of hollow-eyed kids and one-limbed men along the road.

What he sees, though, is the beauty of this flat valley floor, the Shomali plains stretching away between snowy mountain peaks. Pure opportunity.  “Biggest damn ranch you ever saw,” the staff sergeant from Tucson, Ariz., says dreamily. “Black Angus steers as far as you can see. I’d export the beef to Kuwait.” He leans back against his 80-pound rucksack, lights a Korean Mild 88 -- American cigarettes being unavailable—and happily stretches in fatigues faded, worn and begrimed beyond salvage.  “Afghanis already know how to cowboy,” he explains in a stream of exhaled smoke. “I already talked to the local warlords about this. I think I got ‘em on board.”

Staff Sergeant Dirk Sheffer
PFC Ryan Odom
Staff Sergeant George Smith
Major Kevin Farris
Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe
Maj. Gen. Franklin L. “Buster” Hagenbeck
Lt. Col. Fred Hoadley
Specialist Steven Merkley
Maj. Jerry Curran, M.D.

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