When Ryan Lenegan was asked to go to Afghanistan with the Air Force, he knew it was time to serve his country.
A few months prior, he was studying at Richard Stockton College when he realized he was ready to enlist. This meant leaving his family and friends back in Ocean City, putting off college and missing a working summer at Oves, but he was ready to put it all on the back burner.
Now, the 23-year-old returns home to his family after seven months in the mountainous “moon dust” terrain of Afghanistan.
His journey started at Fort McCoy for his combat skills training, which was one month in the ice-cold weather of Wisconsin. A radical change, as he describes it, was about to come.
On the way over, he couldn't help but to be anxious and nervous. The media had shown so many different angles of the war in the Middle East, and he had no idea what to expect.
In his squad were five other men from New Jersey—four from northern New Jersey and one from Tuckerton in Ocean County. When they arrived at their camp in Afghanistan, they experienced a new world. They would encounter some of the most gracious people and weather temperatures reaching 136 degrees.
Immediately, the squad began working on infrastructures. The main project was to build a flight line to cut 45 minutes off the time it took for the Medevac helicopter to get to the medical unit. This project was completed in the seven months they were there and cost $8 million dollars.
“We had an opportunity to build infrastructures and show the prosperity of the American way. It was great to see the community centers and stores being built. It was an amazing experience,” Lenegan says.
The people the squad came across were very nice and thankful for them to be creating a community. At first, after seeing the media's portrayal, the squad did not know what to expect but what they found was amazing.
At the end of the day, Lenegan would educate himself through books to keep up with schooling. He would phone his parents and brother, and keep his friends entertained with Facebook statuses. Some days he would open care package from Ready's, Oves, Mack and Manco's, and Johnson's popcorn.
“No matter where the guys were from they all loved the popcorn. One of the funniest packages I got was from my mom. She sent me ankle socks and I do not know why because we always wear boot socks.”
Lenegan will be busy this fall. He will return to Stockton, where he will play ice hockey, work for his dad at Lenegan Plumbing and Heating, and intern for the State Republican Committee.
Looking back 10 years ago, Lenegan says 9/11 was one of his motivations to join the military. The killing of Osama bin Laden put our country closer to the goal, but as excited as they were, the squad feared retaliation.
Many people who have been involved with 9/11 have been considered heroes. Whether they were working attacked areas on that day, or even serving the country years later.
“It is a rough war. For men and women who join and fight, I can see why they use that term. I feel like I just did my job, and if something came up, I definitely would take it and do it all again.”