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JCU freshman Matthew Hoyt offers a first-hand account of the War in Afghanistan

April 15th, 2010

Pfc. Mathew Hoyt in his gunner position atop a Hummer in Afghanistan. Hoyt, a Chicago native, is now a freshman at John Carroll University and plays offensive line for the Blue Streaks' football team.

It seemed like just another ordinary day for Police Mentor Team Viper. Enduring the scorching heat of summer in southern Afghanistan, the team was on its way to a village about 60 kilometers north of Kandahar, the country’s second largest city. The village led right up into the rugged Afghan mountains – the same mountains that the Taliban used as its hidden sanctuary to plan attacks against Afghan and U.S. forces.

Leading the convoy were two Afghan National Police trucks, followed by three U.S. Humvees, the workhorse vehicles of the U.S. military. Atop the second Humvee sat Pfc. Matthew Hoyt, a current freshman at John Carroll University. At his fingertips was a whole lot of firepower. Hoyt manned both an MK-19 – a machine gun that shoots grenades – and a 240B 7.62mm machine gun. As the gunner, Hoyt’s role was crucial to the unit. It also left him extremely vulnerable to an enemy attack.

During the final five months of Hoyt’s deployment, he helped train Afghan recruits for the Afghan National Police and worked side-by-side with the ANP to fight Taliban militants.

But on this day, PMT Viper wasn’t looking to engage the enemy. Instead, its goal was to simply make it to the village, where it would talk to the village elders and try to get a sense of where the village’s loyalties lied – not an easy job, considering that many Afghan elders are notoriously corrupt, often saying one thing while doing another, especially in the face of a growing Taliban presence.

After an uneventful ride on one of the country’s few paved highways, the convoy eventually arrived at its destination. But as the ANP trucks entered the village, a group of Taliban militants hiding in buildings opened fire. The convoy had been ambushed – and they were surrounded. So Hoyt took to his machine gun, unleashing a deafening drone of automatic fire on the militants. Faced with the convoy’s overwhelming force, the Taliban took to the cover of the mountains, followed closely by PMT Viper.

In a pursuit that lasted almost an hour, the convoy went as far as possible into the mountains. Then the air support arrived, first in the form of U.S. Apache attack helicopters, which strafed enemy positions from above the treetops. The thundering echo of F-16 Fighting Falcons could then be heard dropping bombs on where it thought the enemy was hidden.

But it was impossible to tell whether or not the aerial attacks were successful. The Taliban had melted away into the Afghan mountains. PMT Viper had restored the peace for the time being – but there was no doubt that the Taliban militants would eventually be back.

In one of the lighter moments of his deployment, Pfc. Matthew Hoyt, left, takes a break with roommate Pfc. Christian Weidman and a few Afghan children.

For Hoyt, this encounter with the Taliban was just one of several that he experienced during his nine months in Afghanistan. A Chicago native, he was first deployed to Jalalabad, a city in central Afghanistan, in Dec. 2008. In Jalalabad, he spent four months at a forward operating base (FOB) before he was transferred to Shar-E-Safa in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul province.

It was during Hoyt’s five months in Shar-E-Safa that he was part of PMT Viper, where he had the crucial role of training young Afghan recruits for the Afghan National Police. After multiple skirmishes with the Taliban, he earned his Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a decoration that is only awarded to soldiers who have personally fought in active ground combat.

Hoyt returned from the battlefield to civilian life in Sept. 2009, enrolling at John Carroll University, where he plans on majoring in marketing. A member of the Blue Streaks’ football team, he will battle for a starting position on the offensive line next season. Hoyt is also a passionate supporter of all Chicago sports teams. And if you can’t tell by his pictures, he’s an avid Notre Dame fan.

However, in the same month Hoyt left Afghanistan last year, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, released a report that warned that the U.S. and its allies were losing the war. Not only did he request more troops, but he also stressed the need for a revamped strategy to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban.

In December, Pres. Barack Obama expressed his commitment to the effort in Afghanistan when he announced his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops. So as the United States increases its troop levels in Afghanistan by the thousands, it’s likely that some of JCU’s own ROTC students will be deployed there – perhaps even this year.

However, many students at JCU still don’t know much about Afghanistan, a country we’ve been at war with for almost nine years. So The Carroll News brought in Matthew Hoyt to give an in-depth first-hand account of his experience in Afghanistan.

See the interview here.