The War in Afghanistan began in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
Why are we in Afghanistan?
“We’re cleaning up someone else’s mess. The enemy is the Taliban.”
Sergeant Hayley Nine is a 5’8” 22-year-old woman, who has returned home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. As a gunner for a Mine Resistant Ambush Protection Vehicle (MRAP) scout truck, she wore armor, traveled at the head of convoys in search of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and sat atop the vehicle, alert. Her weapon—a 50 caliber machine gun.
When Hayley Nine was 15, her beloved grandfather died. He had retired from the Army a Lieutenant Colonel. Hayley had been quite close to him, and had also always been drawn to the Army.
At age 17, her parents signed their names, giving Hayley, yet a minor, permission to join the Army—carrying on her grandfather’s legacy. She graduated from Treasure Coast High School, received a softball scholarship to Palm Beach State College and remained a Reserve soldier until being called up to active duty in 2012.
Afghanistan changed Hayley in the way that every soldier who sees active duty in a war zone is changed. “It was a big culture shock,” Hayley states, “and the experience matured me. But I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. It made me realize what really matters—my brothers and sister, my mom and dad, my family. I saw life for the reality it is—and now understand that there are things that matter and things that don’t.”
Before Hayley left for Afghanistan, she had to make decisions about her future, the type which few 20-year-olds pay attention to. The Army requires a checklist to be taken care of prior to deployment: beneficiaries listed on life insurance policies, a will and living will prepared, a signed Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). Hayley gave her dad power-of-attorney over her financial accounts, which helped sort out a few problems while she was overseas, and Hayley elected her sister to be the person to make health decisions in the event that she could not.
In Afghanistan, Hayley has responsible for arranging for the drop off locations and times of materials the convoy was transporting. “This was a huge responsibility for me,” she adds, “they placed me in charge of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and humanitarian aid.”
As the convoy rolled through villages, children would run out for candy. At other times rocks were thrown and pop shots were taken toward them.
Hayley traveled with an interpreter who spoke Pashto through a loudspeaker and on the ground, face to face with locals, speaking on behalf of the U.S. soldiers. He kept his face covered so as to be unrecognizable to the public, thus keeping his identity safe. “Interpreters risk their lives and those of their families if they are ever identified by the Taliban for helping the Americans,” Hayley relates.
At one point, Hayley’s truck had stopped, her truck commander and two ANAs (Afghanistan National Army) with AK-47s were on the ground (off the vehicle). A white Toyota with one male driver approached. He was told to stop or he would be shot. The driver kept coming. Hayley had to make a decision what to do. Her commander could be in the line of fire. The ANAs could turn on them. (“They’ve been known to do so.”) No shots had been fired at Hayley’s truck. (U.S. forces cannot shoot unless they are being shot at and a person within view. Muzzle flash is not enough reason. This is called the Rules of Engagement –ROE.)
This was Hayley’s final mission before coming home. A clenching decision, she did not shoot. It was a dry run, she believes—a testing of U.S. forces to see how far they are allowed to go. The driver of the car stopped beside the U.S. Army truck, got out of the Toyota, picked up an AK-47 of his own from the passenger seat and evilly smiled at Hayley.
Hayley has been home in Port St. Lucie for one year and she is about to graduate from the Police Academy at Indian River State College. In her future is a place on the Port St. Lucie Police Department, where she hopes to become a K9 officer. In September, Hayley will return to the military for training as a drill sergeant in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
One of Hayley’s goals is to “change the face of women in law enforcement, taking full advantage of opportunities such as SWAT and K9.” She believes that veterans with active duty experience, especially after having asserted the Rules of Engagement, are beneficial in civilian security jobs, helping keep the homeland safe.
A Hometown Hero, Hayley Nine is a very focused young woman; Hayley can be found locally in the gym, watching motorcycle racing (She rides a 2009 Kawasaki Ninja ZX10R.), at church or out at the shooting range. Her favorite weapon is an M4 Carbine. One day, she would like to marry and have children.
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© 2014 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon