Leaving Afghanistan: Our Longest War | Lt. Adam Winters: Calling the shots in 1st Platoon

Posted at 11:11 AM, Oct 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-30 23:29:26-04

To his soldiers, he is simply “LT,” a counselor, friend and the good-humored leader of the 40 soldiers of 1st Platoon, 276th Engineering Company, Missouri National Guard.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of anybody's life, let alone 40 soldiers,” Winters told us in an interview at the unit’s motor pool last month. “I take that very seriously while we're here, as well as when we get back home.”

For Winters, home is a moving target. He plans to leave the Army and move to Texas when this deployment ends. He has an MBA, and a wide variety of experience – inside the military and out – that he hopes will serve him well in the civilian world. So far though, only some of his plans for his return home are concrete.

“I'm going to put on like 5 layers of clothes – we've been living in 120 degree temperatures for the last year - and it’s going to maybe 30 when we get back,” Winters told us. “Five layers of clothes, hug my mom, hug my girlfriend and shake my dad's hand.”

At Kandahar, Winters has overseen the “retrograding” (a fancy phrase for tearing down) of dozens, if not hundreds of structures. He’s led his soldiers through the firefight at FOB Walton [LINK HERE TO SEGMENT THREE], managed his platoon and handled the public affairs duties for the entire 276th.

Despite all this, he is quick to describe most of the unit’s days at KAF as simply “ordinary.”

“We are very structured here. We wake up at almost the same time every day. Go to work at almost the same time ever day. Get off about the same time every day. Then our guys go play sports. They go work out. They go to the boardwalk and hang out – eat food, eat pizza at the Kabob House,” Winters said. “You know, go do whatever they want. they go to bed then do it all over again the next day. It’s a lot like having a regular job. Nine to five.”

As an officer, with access to secret intelligence information and a general curiosity about the region, Winters thinks strategically about the war, and its uncertain future. He sees real value in his unit’s sometimes unexciting mission here.

“You see that ISIS is driving around in Humvees and all that stuff. I'm not going to speculate where they got them from, but I know that we're not... we're not leaving a lot that a potential enemy could use against us over here,” he told us.

Like many of the soldiers here, Winters said he was motivated to join the military, at least in part, by his memories of 9/11. And like many of those we interviewed, he struggled to answer the question that will perhaps define this war’s place in history: was it worth it?

“On one hand, I want to say yes, we're going to leave this better off than it was, and any time that we can step in and leave some place better than what we got it then of course we're going to be better off,” Winters said. “But at the same time, what was the cost? What did it cost to actually be here for 13 years? What are the benefits? I... I don't know.”