By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN US Army First Lt. David Keith Dawes, known to his family and friends as Keith, is a Winsted native who has spent close to a year serving in Asia.
He was originally deployed to Iraq in June 2009, serving as a platoon leader in the 7th Engineer Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
In February, he changed command of his platoon to serve in Afghanistan as the executive officer of the 630th Engineer Company, currently operating in Helmand Province.
Dawes was able to share some of his initial impressions of his new surroundings, recently.
“This is my first time in Afghanistan. I have only been here for a week, but I can already see the change in culture,” Dawes said.
“The people are very poor. Most are still a few steps above the stone age here.”
“The fighting forces in Afghanistan are a NATO operation,” Dawes said. “At Kandahar Airfield (Afghanistan), we have over 23 nations supporting the operation. In Iraq, it was just us,” Dawes said.
Other differences Dawes noticed were colder temperatures, higher altitude, and safety.
“As for the temperature, it will get up to 55 today and down to 24 degrees tonight. It’s a damp cold, though,” Dawes said, “like the cold October mornings back home when the extra cup of coffee makes the difference.”
Afghanistan is very mountainous and the altitude could be felt as soon as he left the plane, causing him to experience shortness of breath.
“It makes foot patrols a little more difficult until you get used to it. We do regular runs and marches to get acclimated,” he said.
Dawes said the current conflict in Afghanistan did not make him feel less safe or that there was any more risk for him than what he had encountered in Iraq.
“I guess the mind and body get accustomed to the sound and smells of conflict. I hear the rockets come in, the blast, and I go right into what we have been taught to do. I feel safe here because I have trained for this and so have my men,” Dawes said.
“I can’t talk about the goals of the company, but I can say my number one goal is to make sure everyone gets home safe.”
Dawes company is responsible for clearing Helmand of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs.
Dawes’ parents, David and Karen Dawes of Winsted, are proud of Keith and have supported him throughout his Army career. They, like other parents, are concerned about his safety.
“I would rather not have him in Afghanistan,” David said. “I felt more comfortable when he was in Iraq.”
“While he was in Iraq, they were doing projects where he was working with the Iraqis,” Karen said, “and so what they were doing was different. They weren’t in a combat area.”
Some of the projects that Dawes and his men completed while he was in Iraq were a bypass lane, several helicopter pads, and they conducted force protection for three forward operation bases.
The last time Dawes was home to see his parents was for one week in November. It was at his request that the time just be normal family time with nothing too exciting going on.
“He wanted to catch up on some sleep,” Karen said, “because he had some long days. Especially when they were working on that bridge and culvert while he was in Iraq.”
The bridge, located near the border of Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces, was built to replace a temporary bridge built when the road washed out several years ago.
Most of the work on the bridge was done at night, when there was less heat. Some days the temperature would reach 120 degrees. During the day, the soldiers lived out of tents near the construction site. Iraqis, who operated the excavators and buckets, worked with the soldiers.
On days when it was hot, Dawes’ men would work at night. While they were able to sleep during the day, he was working on plans for the next phase of whatever they were doing.
“It was like an 18-hour day,” Karen said.
Dawes notified his parents shortly after he had left home in November that he would be leaving Iraq to go to Afghanistan.
Besides the additional concern about Keith’s safety, his parents are also prepared to receive a lot less communication from him while he is in Afghanistan. When he was in Iraq, they would get e-mails or they would Skype frequently.
Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet.
Mail may be an alternative, but Karen said when they mail him things it takes about two weeks for him to get it.
Dawes has served in the Army for 10 years
Dawes, a 1999 Holy Trinity High School graduate, has served in the US Army for 10 years.
“I don’t know if I will make the Army my career,” Dawes said, “but the Army has a lot to offer.”
And the Army has offered a lot to Dawes, who began his training as a medic in 1999, right after his high school graduation.
In 2003, he was encouraged to apply to the US Military Academy at West Point by his battalion commander and was accepted. He graduated from West Point May 2007 and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Engineer Corps.
One year later, November 2008, he was promoted to first lieutenant and the leader of the 1st Platoon 642nd Engineer Support Company.
Dawes is looking forward to this summer, July or August, when he will be able to come home on leave.
He still has a little more than two years commitment to the Army.
Last year, Dawes was not able to be home for Christmas. “That is one thing that never gets easy, is missing loved ones and events,” Dawes said.
“I miss a lot of things about home. I miss being able to get up and go to the store and buy milk, or shrimp, and make a good dinner for myself. I miss my parents, my sister, and my family. I miss having a cold beer by the lake and watching the sunset over the tiny island. I guess, I just miss the stuff and events we consider simple, but are what makes life great.”
If you would like to write to Dawes, send your mail to:
1LT Dawes David
630th EN CO/105th EN BN
APO AE 0955.