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Principal, soldier returns

St. Aubin (click for larger version)
June 13, 2012 - He's home.

Goodrich High School Principal and Army Lt. Col. David St. Aubin returned home last week after completing nine months of active duty as part of forces stationed in Afghanistan. He will return as high school principal this fall.

"Some ask, 'What we are doing in the Middle East?' We're taking on the terrorists on their own turf," said St. Aubin.

"I worked everyday with active military—you can't imagine the sacrifice they are making. They are away from their families, some have four tours, even eight out there. That's sacrifice."

"I was a liaison—a fancy word for a communication guy," he said. "My duty was to report back combat 'ops' in the Helmand and Kandhar Province. I was stationed in Camp Leatherneck with the Marines and also worked the 10th Mountain Division."

A former LakeVille High School principal, in January 2005 St. Aubin replaced long-time GHS Principal Kenneth Andrezjewski, who retired. Prior to becoming GHS principal, St. Aubin was a U.S. Army Reservist, who attended the Reserve Officer's Training Corps at Western Michigan University, and obtained a master's degree in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. St. Aubin, who served as a drill sergeant, has earned the rank of lieutenant colonel over his nearly 27 years of duty.

In October 2008, St. Aubin was called to active duty and served a year in Iraq. His mission then was to help train Iraqi soldiers so they can better provide security for their own nation. St. Aubin returned to Flint Bishop Airport on Nov. 25, 2009 and resumed his duties as principal in January 2010.

He has been awarded two Bronze Star medals, a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service, for his actions in Iraq and now Afghanistan.

"When I was in Iraq training national police it was a different mission," he said. "Then I was with Iraqis everyday, ate their food, trained with them—it was a very different objective. This time it was more of an operational mission—more combat oriented. The Taliban would move across the 'seam' between the Helmand and Kandhar provinces where the Army has a regional command—it's an enemy in the shadows—they look the same as any Afghan."

The War in Afghanistan began on Oct.7, 2001 as the armed forces of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance) launched Operation Enduring Freedom. The primary focus of the invasion was the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, with the goal of dismantling the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base.

"We are not trying to get the Afghan people to be like us. We are trying to get certain aspects of what we do that's better for the people including due process of law. The Afghan society is male-centered—it's all about decisions that males make. However, since the internet is available in Afghanistan and Iraq, the younger generations are seeing what other countries are like, especially if you're a female. Afghan women are now saying, 'You mean females can run for office? They can be doctors?' That opens their minds. There's an underline movement of change—there are new variances between tribes in Afghanistan."

"This war is run on technology, everything is communicated over computer," he added. "I spent my days out in villages, the countryside or in forward operating bases (FOB). I traveled to some pretty 'shady' areas of Afghanistan. I would work with 18-19 year old Marines. They have guts. There's no doubt our men and women in service are the very best trained force in the world. They have the knowledge to make sure they do it right—it's more than just the forces in combat, all the units have to discern the right information."

The battle against the Taliban centers around an information campaign, said St. Aubin.

"There's been civilian casualties throughout the war—the Taliban wants the world to think we (the United States) are responsible. However, we did not plant the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that killed civilians. They did. It's about winning the hearts and minds of the people. We are not occupying Afghanistan—that would be easy to do," he said.

"The Afghan people are very smart—they do not live in the stone age," he said. "They do, however, live very basic lives, with crude, if any, infrastructure. It's a very poor country. But they have cell phones and the internet—that is how the Taliban communicate. And we listen to every word."

According to news reports, leaders of America's NATO allies said international troops led by the United States and its coalition partners would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, after being there for more than a decade.

"If we don't fight the war in the Middle East, we are going to fight it here at home," he said. "It's a war fought in the dark, they could come in to our country just like 9/11. But it takes a lot of planning to leave Afghanistan—you can't just do it. Also, the Taliban has safe havens, they sit and plan attacks, gather information and equipment together. Funding is based around the sale of opium and marijuana—the fields were everywhere, plants six feet tall. From that export they buy weapons. The cache of guns and explosives the Taliban has is enormous."

"Still we are putting a big hurt on their network," he said. "If we leave it alone, my opinion is we would be at risk."

St. Aubin suggested he may retire from the service.

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