When Maj. George I. Corbari arrived in Afghanistan in December 2008, he found a country that was slipping into chaos.
There had been frequent enemy attacks that had peaked in August of that year in the run-up to the Aug. 20 elections in Afghanistan.
Corbari, who grew up in Watervliet, returned on Jan. 15 from a 13-month-long deployment to Logar province, which is about an hour’s drive south of Kabul. He is a member of the Fort Drum-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. Corbari described the 3,500-member unit as being the first wave of a buildup instituted by former President George W. Bush to shore up the deteriorating security situation in the country. The unit’s job was to work with the local population and help train their police and security forces to help them perform better.
The strategy worked, he said.
“Over the course of the year, we saw a significant drop in enemy attacks,” Corbari told the audience Sunday at the New York State American Legion’s 91st Annual Mid-Winter Conference. More than 1,600 delegates attended the event held at The Desmond Inn and Conference Center.
Corbari’s duties included creating the posts and bases for the mission.
“None of that infrastructure was there,” he said. “We were the first unit to go to that area. We had to basically start from scratch.”
The soldiers had to build up the base camps, and they slept in tents and make-shift buildings.
The unit also helped build schools, community centers and mosques. Its commander met with locals to promote the Afghan government.
Corbari said there was a little bit of reluctance by Afghans to accept the American forces. “They wanted to see if we were there to stay.”
During the course of the year, the transformation of the community was remarkable, Corbari said. “When we first got there, you’d hardly see any kind of commercial traffic. By the time we left, streets were bustling. Commerce had improved quite a bit,” he said.
The mission was not without its price. A total of 29 soldiers were killed and 275 were wounded.
Corbari has spent 17 years in the military and has also been deployed to Turkey. He said he has enjoyed seeing the difference the troops are making in Afghanistan.
“There’s no greater satisfaction than what I do,” he said.
Corbari will be heading back in April for another tour, and he will be joined by his daughter, a recent graduate of West Point, and her husband, who is in the military, too.
His mother, Barbara Kerr of Schenectady, said she is “inordinately proud” of her son. She was able to keep in contact with him through e-mail on a daily basis. During the Christmas holidays, Corbari was able to see his family open presents on a computer screen through an Internet hookup.
Kerr serves as executive secretary for the Legion, and she said she wanted other members to hear about Corbari’s experience overseas.
Robert Morrill, past commander for the Legion and national public relations committee chairman, said the purpose of the conference is to give members updates on Legion business.
Anyone who has served or is serving in the U.S. military is eligible to join. The organization has about 2.6 million members, according to its Web site.
Morrill said the organization is making a concerted effort to attract new members. “We’re getting a significant number of the younger veterans, but we need more,” he said.
Membership Chairman W. Michael Bowen told the audience to “be confident in yourself that if you ask a veteran to join, more than likely, he will.”
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Categories: Schenectady County