CHS grad earns two Bronze Stars
Sgt. Sam Lawson says joining the Army Reserves was the best decision he's made in a long time. The 2003 Cassville High School graduate's military experience, which includes an 11-and-a-half month deployment to Afghanistan, has provided him with a future career that wouldn't be possible without the training and knowledge he gained serving in an overseas war zone.
"Once I'm out of the Reserves, I plan to go to work in the private sector doing active intelligence gathering," said Lawson, who is the son of Rick and Donna Lawson, of Cassville. "These private companies operate in conflict-zone areas, providing private security details and intelligence gathering.
"I love the adrenaline rush," Lawson added. "It's pretty awesome."
It was Lawson's ability to gather intelligence in Afghan-istan that helped lead to the capture of a number of high-ranking Taliban insurgents. The specifics of Lawson's mission are classified, but Lawson was able to explain that his special operations unit performed both military and civilian operations while stationed in Afghanistan.
"I served as team chief of a three-man team, and our duties varied," said Lawson. "If we were in a hot and heavy zone, we dealt more with intelligence and trying to find the insurgents. If it was a more peaceful area, we focused on our civilian military duties. We had freedom and free rein to do what we needed to do."
Lawson said civilian military duties included handing out soccer balls, helping build schools, providing food and supplies and assisting with medical clinics.
"We're the hearts and minds people," said Lawson. "We try to win people over and gather intelligence. We serve as the liaisons with the mayor and key religious leaders. We take that information to our support unit so they can find the bad guys."
As a result of his leadership during combat operations, Lawson earned not only one, but two Bronze Stars.
One of those medals was given to Lawson for his role as tactical psychological detachment team leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from June 15, 2005, to May 2, 2006. While serving in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, Lawson and his men came under direct and indirect enemy fire.
A narrative that accompanied the awarding of Lawson's Bronze Star describes at least four specific situations where Lawson and his detachment were ambushed by enemy forces. Lawson was cited for demonstrating "exceptional professionalism and leadership," which saved lives and provided a mentoring example to members of the Afghan National Army that were placed under his command.
"Sergeant Lawson's actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect distinct credit upon himself," the narrative concluded.
"This really validates all the effort and the blood and sweat you put into it," said Lawson. "It's an amazing honor."
Lawson said deer hunting trips with his dad, Rick Lawson, helped him develop the skills he needed to successfully serve his unit in Afghanistan.
"Dad took me out hunting and taught me how to spot deer," said Lawson. "That taught me attention to detail, which really helped me on those crazy night missions and helped me while we were on sniper operations waiting to engage."
Lawson and fellow members of the 362nd Tactical Psychological Operations Co., based in Fayetteville, Ark., will be returning to the war zone when his unit is deployed to Iraq sometime next year.
"I don't know exactly what I'll be doing, because it's a fluid and ever changing thing over there," said Lawson. "I'm looking forward to going to Iraq, because I need to have been in both theatres for my next career and I also know I'll be able to take care of my team and get them back."
Lawson is proud of what American soldiers are accomplishing in Afghanistan and Iraq and disagrees completely with the information the media disseminates about the war.
"The media is always showing the bleak and doom and gloom side of everything," said Lawson. "It's a disservice to what everyone's doing over there. Granted it's a bad situation, but it's not unwinable. We have a job to do and we'll do the best we can and accomplish our mission."
Lawson said there are good things happening in Afghanistan and Iraq that receive little media attention.
"I'd say 75 percent of the people in the main villages (in Afghanistan) were pro-American, because we were helping them out so much," said Lawson. "I definitely earned my taxpayers' dollars. I could tell we were having a positive effect on the people. We got a lot done and got a lot of the higher-up Taliban leaders."
Lawson's tour in Afghanistan was not without danger or tragedy.
"It's kind of like the wild, wild west," said Lawson. "It was really difficult seeing the people suffer all the time and witnessing so many random acts of violence. Some people were killed for helping us. It was hard to see poor innocent people trying to make a living and getting punished."
When Lawson is not serving with the Army, he lives in Springfield and attends Missouri State University where he is majoring in history with a minor in Latin and antiquities.
Since returning from Afghanistan in May of 2006, Lawson always wears his dog tags and is often surprised at the positive response he receives from members of the general public who find out he is a soldier who has served in Afghanistan.
"People come up to me, shake my hand and say thank you," said Lawson. "They even offer to buy me dinner. It's great."