Photo by Sgt. Kelly
Gary "Stretch" Wallen stands in front of a classroom
of students and tells them of his experiences
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.
Photo by Sgt. Kelly
Chief Wallen holds an Apache
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
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
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.
Photo by Sgt. Kelly
Wallen shows students what an Afghanistan woman's
traditional clothing would look like.