By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 23, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter recognized several U.S. service members today for their service in Afghanistan and their families for their sacrifices as he hosted the Afghan president and chief executive here.
During a Pentagon center courtyard ceremony, Carter, alongside Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, paid tribute to U.S. troops, their families, civilians, and thousands of contractors who have served in Afghanistan.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lonn Larson
“In 1999,” Carter said, “after almost a decade in uniform, Navy Lieutenant Commander Lonn Larson retired as a Navy flight officer, and launched a successful private-sector career.
“But he felt like his service to his country wasn’t complete,” the secretary continued, “so more than a decade after leaving active duty he decided to return to the Navy as a reservist.”
Last May, Carter said, Larson was called up for duty, and now has been serving in eastern Afghanistan for nine months.
The defense secretary said while Larson is away, his wife of 20 years, Mary Ann, has left her job to spend more time with the couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Reese.
“Mary Ann and Reese have sent a care package every single week, and they can’t wait for him to come home in about a month,” Carter said of Larson’s family, who attended the ceremony.
“But for all the hardship of having her husband away,” he said, “Mary Ann says that Lieutenant Commander Larson’s deployment has become an opportunity to teach Reese how blessed and lucky we are as Americans, to explain what would happen if no one answered the call to service, and to talk about the kind of future we want all Afghans to have, especially young girls Reese’s age.”
Army Capt. Jeremy Haynes
Carter said a month after Larson deployed to Afghanistan, Army Cpt. Jeremy Haynes, a “promising young soldier,” was also in that country, in his fourth month as aide-de-camp to Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, who was then the commanding general of the U.S. Combined Security Transition Command.
“As many of you know,” he said, “General Greene was tragically killed on August 5, 2014, in Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife and their two children.
“Captain Haynes was with General Greene the day they came under fire,” Carter continued, “and suffered multiple, life-threatening wounds -- wounds that left him unconscious and paralyzed below the waist.”
Haynes’ prognosis was so dire, Carter said, that his wife, Chelsea, was told to be ready to fly to Germany as he underwent multiple operations.
‘A Motivation and a Torch’
“But through grace and grit,” Carter said, “Captain Haynes regained consciousness after he arrived at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] about a week later.
“And despite the odds,” he continued, “a day before New Year’s Eve, his family celebrated, because five months after he was wounded, Captain Haynes took his first steps again.”
And just one month later, Carter noted, Haynes and Chelsea celebrated the birth of their third child, Jordon Harold Haynes, named after General Greene.
“Captain Haynes is now resolved to pass the Army’s physical fitness test -- not just for himself,” Carter said, “but also, as he says, to ‘be a rock, a motivation and a torch’ for all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that he’s met -- and no doubt inspired -- up at Walter Reed, where I first met them.”
Carter said it was an honor to welcome Haynes, his wife Chelsea, and his son Jordon, as well as Jordon’s godmother, retired Army Col. Susan Myers, the widow of Greene’s widow.
Recognizing Similar Stories
The defense secretary noted that the stories of the Larson, Haynes and Greene families represent “millions” of stories like theirs -- stories of duty, honor, sacrifice, and sometimes of grief and tragedy.
“Over 850,000 American troops and civilians, and thousands more contractors,” Carter said, “have served and sacrificed in Afghanistan since 2001, and so have their families alongside them.”
He added, “We remember the 2,215 Americans who paid the ultimate price during the course of the conflict in Afghanistan, and their spouses, parents, sons and daughters.”
“We remember that they gave their lives defending our nation’s security,” Carter said. “And in this courtyard, we are also reminded why they went to Afghanistan in the first place.”
One reminder stands just beyond the Pentagon’s walls, he noted -- a memorial honoring all those who perished when the building was attacked on that “bright, fateful day" in 2001.
Reflecting on Afghan Service
Navy Reserve Force Master Chief Petty Officer C.J. Mitchell, who attended the Pentagon ceremony, spoke about his experiences serving in the Gulf and his support to troops in Afghanistan.
“I’m very proud of my service on USS Farragut, DDG-99, as a part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, deployed to the Gulf supporting missions to Afghanistan in 2010,” he said.
“I had the privilege of visiting sailors in Afghanistan, Thanksgiving 2013,” Mitchell said. “I’m very proud of those sailors and the mission that they were accomplishing at the time.”
Mitchell noted Ghani’s thanks to U.S. service members confirmed the troops’ commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan.
“It’s a validation that sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen are making a difference in Afghanistan,” he said, “and that it’s appreciated and recognized -- not just by the government -- but by the citizens there.”
Mitchell added, “As Secretary Carter mentioned, service members like Commander Larson, serving in Afghanistan, are making an enduring difference [there].”
Mitchell said as force master chief of the Naval Reserve, he’s “very proud” of the determination and drive of Navy Reserve sailors like Larson who have served in Afghanistan.
“I think the future of Afghanistan will be an enduring peace,” he said.
With U.S. partnership and the commitment of Afghan citizens and security forces, their future is bright, Mitchell said.