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Retired Army Officer Remembers Co-Worker Who Was Killed In Afghanistan

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Throughout today's program, we're hearing your stories about the lives you're remembering this Memorial Day. Retired Army Officer George Minde wrote to us. Back in 2011, he was in Paktika province in Afghanistan, where he met Staff Sergeant Jorge Oliveira. Oliveira was in the Army National Guard and part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team. The main job for that group wasn't combat, but projects like building dams or schools.

GEORGE MINDE: I met him first when we were going out for our first convoy. He was the convoy commander. And he was going through the roll call and the pre- combat checks and joking with his guys, but at the same time making sure they understood what the threat was and the things they needed to focus on on the trip.

He was always really quick with a joke, building his guys up, making sure they didn't get careless. I mean, this was a really great unit, but Staff Sergeant Oliveira just stood out just that one or two notches above. I've seen a few guys like him, but I could probably count them on the fingers of both hands.

You know, this security force is from New Jersey and I grew up in New Jersey. Like, Sergeant Oliveira lived in - his family lived in the Ironbound Section in Newark. So at night after the missions, we would get a batch of us just out smoking cigars or talking. I had more of a relationship with the Jersey boys, as I'd call them, than the other security forces. It was pretty easy talking with them.

I'd worked with Staff Sergeant Oliveira for three months on and off. I was in Khost province instead of Paktika and had just been there about two days, and was checking email with a Department of State representative. And she wrote back that they'd lost two people that day. Apparently, they'd done a mission to inspect a dam that was being built when they were hit by an IED, which had been placed at the dam. So Staff Sergeant Oliveira and Chief Petty Officer Border were killed instantly.

We had over 50 people killed in Paktika, Paktika-Khost when I was there. This one hit me the hardest because this had been somebody that I'd been working with on a daily basis, had some connections with him, but then also knowing what it meant to his unit. I mean, he was just such a rock of strength for his unit. It took the unit quite a while to go and recover from that.

I spent my last 11 years in the Army working on - mostly on Afghanistan-related issues. And I'll think about him every week and think about just what an epitome of a natural-born leader he was and that we need to remember that it takes time for countries that have been dragged through as much as Afghanistan to get back to, for lack of a better word, normal. And we shouldn't go out there to sacrifice our best unless we're willing to accept the effort that it's going to take.

SHAPIRO: That was retired Army Officer George Minde remembering Staff Sergeant Jorge Oliveira, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.