By Laura Cantera
On September 10, 2001, BYU student Christopher Pratt was a 28-year-old History and Political Science major from Colorado, dealing with the stress and excitement of a new semester. September 11 changed all that.
Pratt completed classes Spring Term 2001, and began classes the following Fall, but changed his plans when Al Qaeda and its forces attacked the World Trade center and Pentagon, said Erik Verhoef, assistant professor of military science at BYU.
Pratt had previously been fully trained as a Special Forces soldier, earning the title of Staff Sergeant. Pratt planned to join the ROTC at BYU, a move which would have increased his ranking to Lieutenant. When the attacks occurred, Pratt stopped the paperwork because he realized he could go with his company to Afghanistan, Verhoef said.
“It makes me incredibly proud just to be able to associate with these guys because I know the sacrifice they”re making,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Stuart, 19th Special Forces Group executive officer.
Pratt is a member of the 19th Special Forces Group, one of the first groups in Afghanistan after the 9-11 attacks. They were on the ground about three weeks after the invasion, Stuart said.
“They”re right on the front line waging the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Command Sergeant Major of the 19th Special Forces Group, Kenneth McCabe.
The 19th Special Forces are on the cutting edge on the fight on the global war on terrorism, Stuart said.
“They”re doing everything that keeps you free, that keeps me free, to enjoy the lifestyles we have,” Stuart said. “They”re dealing with combat situations on a daily basis. They are right in the thick of things, fighting the very critical mass of the global war on terrorism.”
Pratt and his colleagues are working with their intelligence assets to seek out those people that are members of the Al Qaeda organization and eliminate them to prevent future acts of terrorism. This includes finding caves with equipment, explosives, guns and weapons. The goal is to minimize future acts of aggression, Stuart said.
“Don”t let anyone think for one second that this is not at the level of Vietnam and Korea,” Stuart said. “In terms of combat it is very much a combatant war.”
Two members of the 19th Special Forces group have been killed and five wounded, many in regular firefights.
Special Forces soldiers are trained to be the eyes and ears of commanders, destroy targets, integrate into the civilian population, acting as ambassadors of goodwill, and train foreign armies. Right now, they are training the Afghan military force in everything from shooting to organization, Verhoef said.
“I feel jealous of those guys. I want to be with them.” Stuart said. “I am so proud of these guys, (they”re) willing to sacrifice their lives to do their duty.”
McCabe said the soldiers” morale is high and they are still excited about their work.
“They”re doing a hell of a job,” McCabe said.
Just like other students, Pratt had goals of gaining an education, and becoming a military officer, Verhoef said.
“He wanted to put in a contribution right away and to postpone some of his personal goals. He felt that he could serve his country in the time of need,” Verhoef said.
Verhoef calls Pratt”s sacrifice admirable.
“He”s doing an altruistic thing by serving his country, Verhoef said. “But he”s also gaining invaluable military training and experience that will serve him for the rest of his military career.”