The Continuing Tragedy of Afghanistan Hits Home

stoeckliBy Peter GaluszkaAuthor’s note:This is a piece I wrote this week at Richmond’s Style Weekly. As a journalist, I have been dealing for years around the fringes of fighting in Afghanistan which historians have always warned is a good place to stay away from. It has consumed foreign intruders including the British, the Russians and now, the Americans.When I was a correspondent in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, I spoke with many young Russians who had fought there for reasons that still seem unclear. Some lost limbs or their lives or ended up with serious drug and alcohol problems. In early 1989, I was flown by the Soviet Air Force with a group of foreign journalists to the city of Termez in Uzbekistan just across the Amu Darya River from Afghanistan. We were there to watch armored columns withdraw in a new policy brought by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. At the time, I could never have believed that 24 years later, I would be writing about American troops killed there. Americans now are fighting some of the very same Afghanis that we were supporting during the Soviet war.Here’s the Style story:

After he arrived in Afghanistan last December, Army Specialist Kyle P. Stoeckli reassured his parents back in the Foxfire subdivision of Chesterfield County not to worry. U.S. troops had been fighting in that country for 12 years and “it wasn’t as dangerous as people think,” his father, Bruno, remembers him saying.

On June 1 came the tragic news that Kyle, a cheerful, brown-eyed 21-year-old, was dead. Details are still scarce, but he had been walking near a Stryker armored vehicle near the town of Maiwand when he was hit by a blast from an improvised explosive device (IED).

Such bombs are responsible for many of the 2,245 Americans who have died in Afghanistan and the 4,486 killed in Iraq. Of them some 286 are Virginians. About two dozen are from the Richmond area and numbers steadily grow.

For Bruno Stoeckli, an engineer who emigrated from Switzerland, the death of his son is especially unsettling coming so many years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that prompted U.S. incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mastermind Osama Bin Laden was slain three years ago in Pakistan. U.S. troops are mostly withdrawn from Iraq and are expected to draw down from Afghanistan at the end of this year.

Kyle, in fact, was packing up for his return. “He was due to be on his way out about five weeks after this happened,” his father says. He was supposed to be back in Texas until the end of the year. He was thinking about going to flight school after that, says his father as he sits in his family room where sits a miniature rocking chair that had been used by Kyle when he was a toddler

The gregarious 2010 Cosby High School graduate and lacrosse fan wasn’t exactly a super patriot, his father says. He was only nine years old when the World Trade Center towers in New York were destroyed. “He talked a lot about it when he got home from school that day, “says his father.

Years later, Kyle wasn’t sure what to do after Cosby, so he joined the Army. “My wife and I were flabbergasted,” Stoeckli says. “We’re not military people. But we supported it because he wanted to be independent.”

After training at Ft. Benning in Georgia, Kyle was assigned to the 1st Stryker Combat Brigade at Ft. Bliss near El Paso where the dry, rugged mountain terrain was an ideal preparation for Afghanistan for his armored unit. Kyle volunteered “for the less-than-glamorous work details” and had “an extremely optimistic personality that spreads through the platoon like a virus,” 1st Lt. Austin Caroe wrote in a newsletter.

As in Kyle’s case, casualties tend to come through attrition over long periods. Causes include firefights, truck accidents, helicopter crashes, and, quite often, IEDs.  Private First Class Leslie D. Jackson, an 18-year-old graduate of Richmond’s George D. Wythe High School, was killed when her vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq on May 20, 2004. IEDs also killed Staff Sgt. Jason Arnette, 24, of Amelia in Iraq in 2007 and of Staff Sgt. Jaimie C. Newman, a 27-year-old Richmonder, in Afghanistan.

Honoring so many deaths initially caught Virginia officials off guard. One who came through was Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. When he was attorney general in 2006, McDonnell started collecting pictures of American war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 in his office. As combat plodded on, pictures stacked up. The exhibit now totals 286 and has been moved temporarily to a basement room at the Virginia War Memorial. A permanent exhibit is planned on the site, says Memorial spokesman Jeb Hockman. In the works is an $18.6 million expansion project that will include a four-story parking deck and offices for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. Hockman says more names will be added each Memorial Day.

That’s cold comfort, however, to Kyle Stoeckli’s father who is still shaken over how the Army handled Kyle’s death. His remains arrived for processing at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday June 3, but the family was kept in the dark about when to plan a funeral. After no answers for nearly a week, “we finally we learned the following Sunday that his remains would be released the next day,” says Stoeckli.

The June 13 funeral at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church on Winterpock Road was packed. Midway through it, a severe thunderstorm eerily knocked out power. Candles were quickly lit. Stoeckli says the Army “did they best they could and our community was absolutely great and supportive.” But it won’t bring back Kyle, says his father who adds, “I can’t understand why the fighting has gone on so long.”

(Note: The family asks that donations be made to the Kyle P. Stoeckli Memorial Scholarship Fund at

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17 responses to “The Continuing Tragedy of Afghanistan Hits Home”

  1. Good piece. As Billy Joel once crooned, “Only the good die young.”

  2. Breckinridge Avatar

    One hundred and fifty years ago, to the minute this very afternoon, the futility and tragedy of war was spread across the rolling Pennsylvania landscape. The line from the song that comes to my mind is “when will they ever learn?”

    We have at this point in our country the finest, most professional, best trained military in our history. Certainly those boys on Cemetery Ridge was amateurs compared to today’s soldiers. And far too often in our history, we as a country have used them poorly, in questionable or even outright worthless causes. I fear Afghanistan will be in that category when the tally is made. Perhaps if these young men and women were not so good at war, perhaps if we were not so enthralled by the high technology of murder at our command, we’d keep them home. But in Afghanistan we are fighting stone age-level ignorance, rank religious bigotry and hatred — things no modern army can stamp out with weapons. Let the barbarians have the place.

  3. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    A RED BANNER STITCHED WITH GOLD LETTERING HANGS AT Marine Corps Base QUANTICO, VA, its words penned by a Marine:

    “I was that which others did not want to be,

    I went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do,

    I asked nothing from those who gave nothing, and reluctantly accepted the thought of ethereal loneliness should I fail.

    I have seen the face of terror, felt the stinging cold of fear, and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment’s love,

    I have cried, pained, and hoped… but most of all,

    I have lived times others would say were best forgotten.

    At least someday I will be able to say I that I am proud of what I am … a MARINE.”

    The writer of these words left off his name. Save for the last word.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      This small hand stitched banner was donated to the US Marine Corps Archives by a Marine Veteran or by his family on his behalf and in his memory. Thus the small banner is part of the Archives collections donated by those who served in the Marines since the Corps founding in 1775.

      If you would like to view other items in the collection on line such as letters, telegrams, poems, photos, and other personal items written or carried by Marines during their time in service, they can be seen online at:

      For some very recent additions to the collection donated by Marines Veterans click on:

      Something Old – is something New.

      This caption leads to those items that are also found at the above address.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    With all due respect, please spare us this maudlin poetry. Most Marines I have known are a little bit brighter than you suggest.
    Best regards,
    Peter Galuszka

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      To insure I was reading your comment correctly, I went to the dictionary.

      maudlin is defined as: tearfully or weakly emotional; foolishly sentimental

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    If you actually talk to the family of the deceased, you don’t come away wanting to sing the F@#$%g Marines Hymn. OK?

  6. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Talked to? Talked too?

    How many were your best friends? How many were your kin, and best friends? How many were your dad’s best friends? How many were their wives? Or their daughters or their sons? Or their grandchildren? Tell me Peter, get into the details. Tell me?

  7. Darrell Avatar

    Most of what I’ve seen is that politicians are easy to start things. They are totally worthless when it comes to finishing. The problem we have is we never went to war in the first place. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having daily IEDs, or shooting up safe zones 12 years after we went.

  8. Breckinridge Avatar

    I can talk about my family. My father served honorably in WWII and Korea, but his brief experience TDY in country in Vietnam (getting stuck in the middle of a South Vietnamese coup) created doubts in his mind and started them in mine. My brother was part of the expeditionary force that drove Saddam out of Kuwait, but was disillusioned about how we then let the Iraqis down in the years that followed. My son apparently saw little nobility in his own service in Iraq 14 years later. I’m proud of all of them, but selectively proud of what America was seeking to accomplish.

    Darrell, you are right, we could have destroyed Afghanistan in order to save it. We could have gone in full bore. During the early stage we were too tentative in fighting Bin Laden. But the problem is this is not the liberation of France from the Germans, or an effort to inflict an embarrassing defeat on the enemy in order to force a peace treaty (Gettysburg.) The Afghans are at war with themselves, as the Vietnamese were. The fight is over religion, ideology and politics, not territory. In Afghanistan add tribalism. Level the place and the next generation of Afghans would still be fighting over whether to join the 21st Century or remain stuck in the 8th.

    You can look at a map and see that Bush was interested in establishing westernized democracies on either side of Iran, the real enemy in this 30-year war we’ve engaged in. He wanted US air bases active in both of them — another effort at containment.

    1. Darrell Avatar

      The point is we shouldn’t have been in AFG to liberate anything. We should have been there to punish them for 9-11 and to present them with a vision of the future of what will happen if they allowed something like that again. We should have followed OBL straight into Pakistan and dared them to do something about it. That’s what we ended up doing anyway.

      What Bush did was more of his daddy’s NWO BS. We didn’t take care of the Iraq problem when we were there the first time. We came back and now we will some day go back again. And we are making the same mistakes with China. We’ve sent trillions of dollars into the idea of globalism preventing wars. Now we are broke and China’s leaders have a big head and eyes for world conquest. All this diplomatic war crap doesn’t fix anything. It just postpones things until we have no choice.

      1. larryg Avatar

        But Darrell – you don’t invade a country to go after few outlaws, guy.

        or lets’ put it this way – if you’re gonna do that – then do it with the CIA or drones not Armies!

        At the end of the day – we are without a doubt the most powerful country in the world – but our guys bleed and die just like the enemy does and the bigger the invasion – the more guys (an now gals) get maimed and killed and at the end of the day – we don’t get the bad guys – they run to other countries and we get left holding a bag of doo-doo…. for our efforts.

        We don’t seem to learn this lesson very well. In fact, when the current POTUS decides to use Drones and CIA to get the bad guys – the NeoCons have hissy fits. They want boots-on-the-ground – shock and awe – none of this panty-waist “surgical” crap…

  9. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You are WAAAY out of line here.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Actually, Peter, the conversation that is going on here is the best and most telling evidence that the Marine who penned those words was right on target.

  10. larryg Avatar

    There was never any question in WWII than once we took back Europe that it was going to be returned to the people to govern as they saw fit and that include Japan and Germany.

    After that, things came unglued.

    but we are totally fooling ourselves with regard to the real economic costs of our policies.

    Look at our budget.

    subtract out the FICA tax which is spent ONLY on Social Security.

    Then look at what is left – for income taxes – individual and corporate:

    about 1.5Trillion.

    then look at the Military Budget – about 600 billion.

    but wait – the military budget is not the whole story.

    the whole story is our National Defense Budget which includes things beyond the military budget :

    1. – the VA ( yes it’s NOT listed in the military budget).

    2. Homeland Security – Coast Guard, TSA, CIA, NSA, etc

    3. NASA military satellites

    4. Department of Energy nuke weapons and ship reactors.

    5. TRICARE – health care for Soldiers families

    6. Medicare and Social Security – not only for Soldiers but Homeland Security, DOE, NASA, TSA, etc – paid for with tax dollars.

    At the end – here is the reality:

    we take in about 1.5T total in income taxes

    we spend more than a trillion on National Defense.

    this country spends more on the military alone (not including national defense) than the next 10 countries combined to include Russia, China, Britain, France, North Korea and Iran.

    What drove us into our 16T debt is not just entitlements – an awful lot of it is from our worldwide “national defense” footprint and it’s not only costing us the death and dismemberment of soldiers but the fiscal disaster falling on their kids.

    It’s okay to be “patriotic”. But not dumb.

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The soldier who died in this blog was from the U.S. Army. Some 4,221 Army personnel have died, compared to 1,320 Marines. To turn this into a gigantic laud of the Marines is just plain wrong.

    Also, the relatives of the dead don’t exactly feel like humming Semper Fidelis. Maybe you should actually meet some.

  12. DJRippert Avatar

    Peter – If you happen to speak with the Stoeckli family again please pass along my sincere condolences. Losing a 21 year old son in any manner must be terrible. As the father of five sons I simply can’t imagine the grief that the Stoeckli family must feel.

    It’s time for these idiotic wars to end. In fact, it’s far past time.

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