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Leaving Afghanistan: Our Longest War | Sgt. Brandon Lewis keeps close to home with technology

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Posted at 11:05 AM, Oct 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-30 23:27:24-04

On a quiet Sunday morning at Kandahar Air Field, Sgt. Brandon Lewis sipped his coffee and turned on his laptop. At 6 a.m., he hadn’t slept all night.

Watching the Kansas City Chiefs play live meant staying up until the game ended at 4 a.m. in Afghanistan, but he had something much more important to do than catch a few hours of sleep.

“Hey! Wow, the picture is actually clear this time,” he said.

His wife Keisha and their 9-year-old daughter, Keiren, are on the other side of the world, but he could see them clear as day. They were Skyping from their Centerview, Mo., couch at 8:30 p.m. before they headed to bed.

They message somehow twice a day, and use Skype when they can. The Lewis family says they’re lucky because using video chat wasn’t an option during Brandon’s other deployments. Getting to see each other is a huge bonus.

“She’s got her first volleyball game Tuesday,” Keisha said about their daughter. Most of their talks catch Brandon up on little details of daily life. The danger Brandon faces isn’t really dinner conversation.

“It’s not a secret. It’s not something I’m gonna keep from her and she knows that, but she’s just content not knowing,” Brandon said.

Keisha prefers to not track every news story.

“I try to tell family, don’t call me and ask me how he’s doing if they hear something because he’ll… I’ll hear it from him if I need to,” she said. “As long as I hear it from him, I know everything is OK.”

Lewis has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His jobs during deployments have ranged from manufacturing explosives to hunting for them. His last deployment clearing roadside bombs weighed on him in more ways than one.

“So that is where the stress was and the sleepless nights and part of me worrying about the next day’s mission,” he said.

Lewis and several of his fellow soldiers don’t often talk about the time they lost one of their own. Their daily reminder simply sits on their wrist, a bracelet bearing Sgt. Robert Crow’s name.

The 42-year-old from Kansas City died in July 2010 in Afghanistan, the victim of an IED.

“All that, it just adds up and really brings you down but you have the support from the rest of the guys in your platoon because they’re going through the same thing,” he said.

As a squad leader, Lewis now leads soldiers through their first deployments, getting them ready for battle.

“It is very humbling to see them. These soldiers of mine were 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds and seeing them become the men they are now,” he trailed off smiling.

Now he’s trying to prepare them for another big adjustment: going home. More than one soldier faces a divorce before they even return.

“You need to understand that there’s now changes back home. You can’t just come in, especially if you’re married and you’re coming back with a family, you can’t come in and say, ‘No, that’s not right, we’re doing it this way.’”

The entire Lewis family is now veterans at reintegrating Dad when he comes home, but even after three deployments, adjusting isn’t easy for a man trained to look for roadside bombs. There are some considerations he asks of others.

“You try to avoid potholes here in Afghanistan, whereas at home, you just drive over them," he said. "So we’re hitting potholes and I’m like ‘OK, I have to drive!’ and that’s how it had to be. I had to drive.

“You don’t come up and scare me,” he said. “My neighbors? Don’t zero your weapon or calibrate your hunting rifle.”

Keisha has learned what helps her and Keiren while Brandon is gone.

“The little things matter. We’ve been very, very fortunate this deployment. We’ve got some great neighbors. We’ve got a great church family and our families are awesome,” she said.

Brandon jokes that Keisha knew what she was getting in to since he had always planned to make the armed services a career.  It's a sacrifice she says is worth making.

“You just do it,” she said. “I mean, it is not easy sometimes, but you love a person so much that you just do it.”

After so many families have made so many sacrifices in our country’s longest war, we asked Brandon Lewis if it was worth it.

“To me, I feel it has been worth it,” he said, sighing. “We want them to be able to sustain themselves.”

But the question of if the Afghan people can sustain themselves is what has the eyes of the world on Afghanistan, wondering about a promise Lewis admits we can’t make.

“I really don’t know. It’s kind of like watching a child walk for the first time. You’ve just got to let ‘em go and see how they’ll do.”