Combat vet returns home after year in Afghanistan
April 27, 2011 - After a year in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Spec. Ariel Gruenberg is coming home to Clarkston for 30 days of leave.
|Gen. David H. Petraeus speaks to 101st Airborne soldiers at Combat Outpost Honaker-Miracle in the Pech River Valley, March 31. Spec. Ariel Gruenberg is to the right of the general. Photo provided by Capt. Jonathan Springer. (click for larger version)|
"I'm going to take it easy, hang out with friends," said Gruenberg in a phone interview from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.
An infantryman with Third Platoon, B Company, First Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, First Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division – Air Assault, he fought insurgents in the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province.
"That's the most dangerous place in Afghanistan," said Leif Gruenberg of Davisburg, Ariel's father. "He saw a lot of action."
Stationed close to neighboring Pakistan in places like Combat Outpost Michigan and OP Pride Rock, American Screaming Eagles and Afghan National Army troops went up against foreign fighters crossing the border.
"They fought in very primitive conditions, very close to the Pakistani border," Leif said. "I'm just amazed."
In one battle, an Afghan soldier next to Ariel triggered his RPG launcher and the rocket blew up in the shooter's face. Ariel picked him up, carried him out of the line of fire, and provided first aid, saving his life.
Other soldiers were hit, and he helped them, too, including tying on a tourniquet.
"He saved their lives," Leif said. "It's a big deal. Thank God he came home safe."
For Ariel, the war wasn't about politics or making Afghanistan free – it was about his fellow soldiers fighting alongside him.
"I was proud to fight with them," he said. "We did a really hard job, physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding 100 percent of the time. It's not a lot of fun being shot at, but I would not take anything I've done back."
He was named Soldier of the Month for January, and was honored by Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance forces, at an awards ceremony at Combat Outpost Honaker-Miracle in Kunar Province, March 31.
"I thought he was pretty cool," Ariel said. "He knew about our unit and what we did throughout the whole year. He knew what each of us were receiving awards for. He wasn't there just to cross the T's and dot the I's. He knew what was going on."
Ariel's unit returned to Ft. Campbell last week. He is set to return to Clarkston about May 22. One thing on his agenda: serve as best man in his father's upcoming wedding.
"I think he should get more friends," Ariel joked. "But I'm excited about it."
"I admire him. I respect him," said Leif, set to marry Annette Marantette. "He's a different person in a good way, lots of leadership qualities – he was a team leader."
When Ariel decided to enlist, Leif wasn't surprised.
"He talked about joining the Marines, but decided on the Army," Leif said. "I remember watching Ken Burn's program on the Civil War with him when he was little. We talked about Pickett's Charge when he was at a very early age."
With four years left in his six-year enlistment, Ariel's future includes a reassignment to Ft. Lewis, where he will serve with Third Brigade, Second Infantry Division.
After the Army, he plans to go to college, perhaps to become a history teacher.
"Something I don't have to shoot anybody in," he said.
Ariel is the son of Leif and Lori Gruenberg of Clarkston, and has four brothers, Alexander, Axel, Ansel, and Alexie Gruenberg.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.