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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: John Carpenter

Veteran Top Box

John's Photos

Picture of John waiting for helicopter extract on Pakistan border. 

"I planned and executed 53 missions on Pakistan and Iranian borders to get US Engineers to inspect construction sites before turning them over to Afghan government."

Mutullah Khan helped USACE secure the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kut His men had gone unpaid since the contractor from Pakistan ran off with the money. We brought the payroll to Matullah Khans in Tarin Kut.

Pictured here with Mutullah Khan, who was later assassinated in 2017. 

"Colombia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Soldiers and civilians get blown up all the time. I visited the wounded frequently. There are a massive number of amputees."

John with a wounded Columbian soldier, and his mother  - 2007

"I was able to get Piedmont Natural Gas to give obsolete personal computer for training Colombian amputees on computer skills. Picture of me visiting Colombian soldiers and with the first class of amputees ready for computer training."

"In Iraq we drove around in vehicles with no armor." 


Al Hiafa Street, Baghdad, during an 11-hour gun battle - 2007

January 2007 Heavy fighting took place Al Hiafa street eastern Baghdad. We captured several Al-Qaeda fighters 

John after an11-hour battle on IA Hiafa Street.


I was one vehicle away from being blown up in convoy on way to Tal Afar

when a HUMVEE was eviscerated by IED no one survived 

John has a pilot's license and was able to fly this skymaster from Diyunia to Ballad while the pilot slept. 

John trained Polish troops on coalition communications prior to deployment to Iraq 


John with German soldiers who came out for a 'Meet the Coalition' night


John with his MSG E8 John Walls - 2010

John and Mirwai Noorzai, a 404 Miawand ANP (Afghan Nationals Police) General, (middle) poses with Canadian Major Lassard (right) during a negotiation session.

John presents a course on beekeeping for Afghan women with Lt Col Martha Keene.  

"I was in Al Kut Iraq with Ukrainian soldiers. They were basically good soldiers.  The young ones wanted nothing to do with the old Soviet Russians." 

2007 - John holding an AK47 that was returned to an Iraqi family, after saving the grandfather's life (in a medical emergency).  The Iraqi family was escorted through dangerous checkpoints on route to the hospital. The weapon was confiscated and returned to the family the following day.  At that time, Iraqi families were permitted to have AK47 weapons for personal protection.

John on a raid at JAM HQ, Baghdad - 2007

John's first of 53 missions with the Corp of Engineers to Asterlee Bayman Provence - 2010

Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) was a Shite militia responsible for a lot of violence in Iraq. We raided their headquarters frequently. Always a dangerous operation Picture taken during raid Jan 2007

John Carpenter's Story

            I enlisted in November 1978. I primarily did so because I felt I needed to serve my country. During the Vietnam era I was S2 deferment as I was in college on a football scholarship. My brother was in Vietnam, my uncle was in Korea, and my father served in the Navy in World War II. My conscience forced me into enlisting. I am grateful that I did. I was trained as a tank gunner at Fort Knox. I stayed in the Armor branch for 8 years. Later I went into the Army Reserve and transferred to the Infantry branch. Later I transferred to the Military Intelligence branch. In 1992 I went through Army Airborne school and became a paratrooper at age 43. During the 1990’s I ended up as an intelligence officer in a Joint Reserve Unit JRU at Joint Forces Command JFCOM. While at JFCOM I was sent to JAC Molesworth England during the Bosnian conflict. Also, while at JFCOM I qualified as a Maritime Watch Officer. I believe I was the only Army officer qualified to stand that position.

                After 9/11 I was activated initially to JFCOM and assigned to the Standing Joint Forces Headquarters SJFHQ.  SJFHQ was a project initiated by the Secretary of Defense SECDEF Rumsfeld.  In October 2003 I sent to Iraq to implement SJFHQ projects. I then returned to Iraq January 2004 and stayed until September 2004. During that time, I was involved in several direct force engagements. Between 2004 – 2007 I was in and out of Iraq 6 times. My total time in Iraq was 2 ½ years Between 2004 and 2007 I was sent to Italy, Poland, El Salvador, England, and Thailand for various projects during the Global War on Terror GWOT.

                In 2007 I was sent to Colombia South America as part of GWOT mission. Colombia had been fighting a 40-year war against a communist group called the FARC. The FARC were narco terrorist and held three Americans as hostages. The Colombian Military Group (MILGRP) was primarily focused on freeing American hostages. In this capacity I had the pleasure of working with the Colombian Military COLMIL. have great respect for the Colombians who were first rate soldiers. I learned a lot of Spanish. Ultimately, we assisted the COLMIL in killing a lot of FARC terrorist.

I arrived at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan Regional Command South RC (S) on June 6, 2010, D Day in World War II. I was J2 (Military Intelligence) working for the US Army’s Corps of Engineers. The US Army Corps of Engineers USACE is structured into departments based on their engineering expertise. USACE is mostly civilians. The military component was joint a mixture of Navy, Air Force, and Marines. They brought various attitudes towards work and leadership. We were charged with building and expanding the power grid in Afghanistan. This meant taking civilians to remote sites to oversee progress. This was very difficult because of the ongoing fighting between the military and the Taliban. Each place had their own web of connections, and the local Taliban group had their own goals. The Taliban worked in small independent cells, and they had their own internal divisions.

Afghanistan was complex. Sometimes those responsible for an attack were well known, but not pursued because of tribal connections or political calculations. Sometimes you must let intelligence mature to root out the entire rat's nest. It’s better to get an entire cell in one sweep, rather than picking them off one by one. [The Operations Center] was a dysfunctional group. There was a lot of bureaucracy and miscommunication between the various groups. Intelligence, IT, and Engineering sometimes worked at cross purposes. Supplies took a long time to arrive because of paperwork. A complex chain of command and coalition partners added to the burden of getting anything done.

We worked with the Canadian Military, as well as other countries’ militaries, like the Dutch, French, Spanish, Italians, and Australians. There were contractors from all over the world. Information was shared, but there was no consensus on what to do with the information. For example, Adbul Raziq was an Afghan government official, who was believed to be corrupt. He was considered by the Canadians to be an ally, but to the Dutch he was considered to be a corrupt opportunist. To us he was a steely-eyed killer of the Taliban. There was no one in power that was corruption clean in Afghanistan. Using contractors for security was a way to get around troop caps arbitrarily imposed from Washinton, This was often more trouble than it was worth, as they were less disciplined, making more money than regular soldiers, doing less work, with fewer consequences and with much worse conduct. Ensuring they were doing the work for the money they were paid was a challenge, as they might skim some off the top, or slow the work, etc. They were supposed to support the USACE’s work but created problems with the local communities.

We formed alliances with various Afghan tribes for local support. This was difficult because of the differing goals of each group. Often different villages goals were in conflict. One village may want a well dug but another village would view this as a threat to their water supply or monopoly on water rights. It’s hard to develop relationships in a place where tribal relations dominate. Then there was the corruption issue. Where do you draw the line between corruption and custom? The Pashtun code of Pastunwahli meant you had to eat a lot of local food. That was done at your own peril.  Sharing food was a good way to create lasting connections, building relationships with locals was vital in collecting relevant intelligence. Understanding their customs was vital in building relationships, their information was usually good but needed outside verification.

One of our biggest problems was the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), SIGAR was constantly auditing and checking our work, this was time consuming. They have their agendas, but it seemed like every week a new team would show up going over the same material. We had issues with our foreign contractors. They were often corrupt. Our main priority in Kandahar was restoring the electrical grid. This was fundamental to our premise that electrical power would provide jobs taking away local grievances that fueled the insurgency. Issues like the age of the power grid, made up with Russian parts made it difficult to update the grid. The hydroelectric dams and power plants were old and failing. Building in a war zone presents challenges, in addition to those issues were magnified by the long screwdriver Washington. They seemed more concerned with financial and environmental issues.

SIGAR later reported that the power grid didn’t work properly and cost $60 million. This was true but failed to recognize we were installing a grid in a combat zone. It never reflected the courage of the American soldiers that was going into Kandahar City, homefield of the Taliban, and climbing telephone poles installing transformers and copper lines exposed to sniper fire.

During my time in Afghanistan, I planned and executed 53 helicopter missions and numerous ground missions. These missions got our engineers to remote sites to inspect construction progress. We had to work with locals, foreign contractors and coalition partners. After my time in the USACE, I was given orders to the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) and assigned to Regional Command East RC(E). My total time in Afghanistan was 2 years 9 months and 28 days.


I decided to go in the Army in my late twenties. I had a football scholarship during the Vietnam War and therefore was 2S deferment. Later on my conscience got to me that I had not served. My father was in WWII and my brother Vietnam. I was married and lucky for me I had an understanding wife. She understood that it would bother me forever if I did not serve. I had a variety of experiences in the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve. During my service I was in the Armor (tank gunner), Infantry, and Military Intelligence I was also a paratrooper. After 9/11 I was deployed all over the world. I met many good people in our armed services and coalition forces. I am a firm believer in national service and believe most people are enriched by that experience. I can say that I do not want to be reincarnated because I know I could never be that lucky again.