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Hudson soldier back home from tour in Afghanistan

Spc. Brent Kodesh reads the Hudson Star-Observer while stationed at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, last fall. (Submitted photo)1 / 5
Spc. Brent Kodesh of Hudson stands under a sign welcoming people to the U.S. military’s Jalalabad Airfield. Kodesh returned home recently from a 10-month tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserve 203rd Transportation Co., based in Arden Hills, Minn. (Submitted photos) 2 / 5
Spc. Brent Kodesh got along well with the Pakistani contract workers he was assigned to supervise. “I miss them all,” he said. “They’re all really good guys.” 3 / 5
A Rough Terrain Container Handler (RTCH) moves a 20-foot shipping container at FOB Fenty, Afghanistan. Spc. Brent Kodesh of Hudson operated the big machine while stationed at the base.4 / 5
The Blackhawk and Apache helicopters at the Jalalabad Airfield would scramble when the enemy mortars fell during Spc. Brent Kodesh's tour in Afghanistan.5 / 5

One of the reasons Spc. Brent Kodesh enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve at age 29 was a desire for adventure.

Now 32, Kodesh can say the Army has lived up to its promise.

He returned in late April from a 10-month tour in Afghanistan, where he served with a small contingent at Jalalabad for more than four months before completing his tour at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in the country.

Kodesh and three other soldiers from the 203rd Transportation Co. based in Arden Hills, Minn., were assigned to Forward Operating Base Fenty at Jalalabad.

As cargo handlers, their job was to operate the Rough Terrain Container Handlers (RTCH) on the base. The big machines are used to load and unload 20-foot shipping containers from trucks.

“Those containers are everywhere in Afghanistan,” Kodesh said in a recent interview. “We were in charge of moving those around … Different contractors would say they needed something moved, so we would go move it for them.”

Located in the lowlands near the border with Pakistan, Jalalabad is prone to attacks from the Taliban. The temperature is hot, too, with an average daily high of over 100 degrees F during the summer months.

“It was definitely more dangerous, because it was a smaller base,” Kodesh said. “…It was pretty scary there for a little while, although I was never directly involved in anything scary.”

The biggest threat was from incoming mortars fired from the surrounding mountains. At FOB Fenty, when the mortars hit, they hit nearby.

The Jalalabad Airfield at FOB Fenty is where the drones used to strike Taliban targets in Pakistan were housed. Kodesh would watch them take off from a small runway 500 feet away.

“That was really cool,” he said.

Across the street was a compound where members of the Afghan National Army stayed.

The Afghan soldiers weren’t allowed to carry their weapons on the U.S. base because of the threat of inside attacks on American soldiers.

Nevertheless, Kodesh enjoyed having the Afghan soldiers nearby.

“That was probably my favorite place because of the diversity,” he said. “We saw them every day.”

The Blackhawk and Apache helicopters at the airfield would scramble when the enemy mortars fell.

“They would get up in the air and be looking for them. I would never find out if they would catch them or not. At least you felt a little bit safer when you heard all the birds circling overhead,” Kodesh said.

His job on the huge Bagram Airfield was completely different. There, he oversaw a group of 10 to 15 Pakistani men, who were responsible for escorting Afghan fuel truck drivers around the base.

The Pakistani contractors, who had security clearances, watched the Afghan drivers because they weren’t fully trusted. Kodesh, in turn, was responsible for supervising the Pakistanis.

“We worked with them every day. I spent more time with them than I did with my own soldiers. We formed really close friendships with them all,” he related. “I miss them all. They’re really good guys.”

Since returning to Hudson, Kodesh has gotten phone calls from one of the men, who is now back in Pakistan.

“They were just like us,” Kodesh said. “They were just working to make money. They sent all their money back home -- gave it to their families.”

Language was somewhat of a barrier. The Pakistanis spoke broken English and Kodesh is a fast talker, but they managed to communicate nonetheless.

“They would sometimes make fun of me because I talk really fast,” Kodesh said. “They would say, ‘Kodesh, slow speak, slow speak!’ ”

Bagram, at close to a mile above sea level, was cooler and safer. It snowed a couple of times during the winter. And any mortars that fell there were farther away.

“It actually was kind of pretty,” Kodesh said. “If it wasn’t a time of war you would think it was a vacation.”

Kodesh was gone from his wife, Jana, and young daughter, Kiana, a total of 11 months, including the month of training in Mississippi before departing for Afghanistan on July 20, 2013.

“It’s tough,” he said of the separation. But it isn’t like the old days, either, when all you could do is write letters. He and Jana would communicate by email and talk via Skype a few times a week.

“It was a long time to be away from my daughter. She grew up so much,” he said of Kiana, now four years old. “Even though I got to Skype, it wasn’t the same as being there in person. It did help. I’d watch her play in the background.”

The 203rd Transportation Co. spent more than a week in New Jersey reacclimating to civilian life before returning home on April 26.

Kodesh was welcomed back to his job at Cardinal Health, where he had worked for 13 years, but has since taken a new job with Union Pacific Railroad.

His father, Dan Kodesh, retired last year after 40 years with the railroad. His mother, Carolyn Kodesh, just retired from her position of nutrition manager at Hudson High School.

Jana is a legal assistant for Nicolet Law Office in Hudson.

Kodesh, a 2000 graduate of Hudson High School, has two older brothers, Troy and Trevor. He’s the first in his family to serve in the military.

“It just dawned on me one day,” he said of his decision to enlist. “I wanted to do something big with my life I guess.”

He said he’s readjusting well to civilian life, although he still finds himself wondering where his weapon is and removing his cap when he enters buildings.

Asked about the Afghan government’s chances of survival after the American troops are gone, Kodesh said he thinks the U.S. military will maintain a presence through at least 2015.

“Their concern is they don’t want it to end up like Iraq where right now all hell is breaking loose again,” he said. “I think they want to make sure this war is a success with all the money they’ve put into it.”

“I support everything they are doing,” he said of the American effort. “I never was one to disagree … I always was for the mission and believe what they decide is for the best.”

However, he doesn’t support the release of five Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier said to have walked off his post in Afghanistan five years ago.

“From what I know of that, it sounds like it was kind of a bad deal,” Kodesh said. “I don’t know why they would do that.”

He doesn’t regret his own service.

“When I first found out I was going, I was a little bit scared, but I’m glad now I did do it. It was a good experience. I’m glad I went,” he said.

“It went really slow. You just want to be back home. It took forever it seemed like. But now when I look back on it, it went really fast.”

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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