Apache Pilot Shares Experiences

of Afghanistan with Students


Written by Sgt. Kelly K. Collett

Published January 4, 2006

CW5 Gary "Stretch" Wallen stands in front of a classroom full of students and tells them of his experiences in Afghanistan.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly K. Collett

CW5 Gary "Stretch" Wallen stands in front of a classroom full

of students and tells them of his experiences in Afghanistan.


ST. GEORGE, Utah - CW5 Gary "Stretch" Wallen watched as anxious teenagers piled into a small auditorium. Snow Canyon High School invited the helicopter pilot to share his experiences he had while deployed in Afghanistan.

Wallen has talked around a dozen times to high schools, colleges, and religious groups about his experiences of his deployment to Afghanistan.

Wallen has been an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot for over 15 years and has flown helicopters for over 25 years. He spent a year in Afghanistan with the 1-211th Aviation Battalion.

Wallen played a slideshow of pictures while the students found their seats.
Video of apache helicopters destroying their targets with hellfire missiles set to hard rock grasped the students' attention early on then Wallen continued to hold it throughout his presentation.

The Veteran started out his presentation by asking the students if any of them knew what "war" meant or what came to their minds when they heard the word. Many of the teenagers quickly rolled off their answers saying things such as: fighting, many people being killed, struggle between countries and so on. Wallen then shared with them that the meaning of "war" actually was when one country fought another country to take control of their land. The Apache pilot told them, "We are not fighting Afghanistan to take their land," but explained that we were there to help liberate a people who were in need of being liberated.

Wallen talked to the students about the many great things the soldiers were doing for their friends, the people of Afghanistan. He showed pictures of Halima, the little afghan girl who had a problem with her eyes that was corrected with the help of the 211th. The Chief also talked about Asedullah, a ten year-old boy that had a hole in his heart and was giving the opportunity for a new life through surgery.

Chief Wallen holds an Apache helicopter as he answers students' questions.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly K. Collett

Chief Wallen holds an Apache helicopter

 as he answers students' questions.

The 1-211th is well known for their humanitarian efforts while in Afghanistan. They were involved with one of the largest air assault missions done during a non-peacetime conflict without ever firing a shot.
They delivered over 12,000 pounds of aid to a small village. There they celebrated an "American Christmas" with the villagers. Wallen played as Santa Claus, handing out over 300 bags of toys and candy to the children of the village.

The pilot shared one special moment with the students about a young Afghan girl who took her bag of toys and candy, and walked over and set on a dirt hill. She opened her sack and started to cry. Not because she was sad or angry, but because no one had ever given her something like this before.
She was so thankful for her little present.

Students shared their views about the situation in Afghanistan, "I don't think we can pull out. They won't trust us again if we do," said Cody Stratton a senior at Snow Canyon High School.

Laurel Gubler, a sophomore at Snow Canyon, said about the soldiers who are serving, "They're out there helping others get their freedom, while defending ours." She currently has a father and brother serving in the 222nd Field Artillery in Iraq.

While in Afghanistan, Wallen was fortunate enough not to use his Apache to shoot at the enemy. Instead, the presence of the Apache alone was enough to disperse ambushes and provide critical seconds as the enemy's focus moved from the ground troops and shifted to the "black falcons of death" overhead.

Wallen gave the presentation four-times during the school day to a full room every time. Many of the students enjoyed Wallen's presentation so much, they returned for a second and even third time to listen to his experiences.

Wallen taught the students about Afghanistan culture, the environment, the treatment of women in the Afghanistan culture and about the many humanitarian aid missions provided by the soldiers of the 211th.

He encouraged them to set goals in their life and to be good citizens of their community.

"Its good for the kids to hear from those who have been there [in Iraq and Afghanistan]." said Cary Hosner, a teacher at Snow Canyon, "It's eye opening to the students, and good for them to hear the positive."

Wallen hoped the students he spoke to would understand that there is good in this world, and the United States is doing the right thing in helping the good people in Afghanistan.


CW5 Wallen shows students what an Afghanistan woman's traditional clothing would look like.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly K. Collett

CW5 Wallen shows students what an Afghanistan woman's traditional clothing would look like.