Bill Connor knows what it likes to fight an unseen enemy.
The Orangeburg resident has tirelessly trained others to do it for the past several months, even in 120-degree heat while encapsulated in body armor within the confines of an armored vehicle.
It is in the middle of the Taliban's volatile spring-summer offensive, a time when the fundamentalist insurgents generally produce their most intense attacks from the rugged, mountainous terrain in Afghanistan. Fire fights can break out from any corner. Suicide bombs can erupt without any warning.
The maiming or killing of soldiers is an ever-present reality in a world where allied NATO forces are battling a terrorist campaign.
The particularly dangerous southern Afghanistan region was the area from which Connor and other National Guard forces from South Carolina worked to advise the embattled Afghan National Army. The mission soon turned into a police advisory mission, which landed him and his team in uncharted territory.
"We came in right during the start of the spring offensive, and we were under a lot of threats the whole time we were there. After mobilization, the police advisory effort became the focus. Because of all the fighting in the southern region, much of what we taught them was in the way of infantry skills," said Connor, an infantry major in the S.C. Guard.
"The soldiers really adopted very well and did an outstanding job. Throughout the summer, we put teams in various locations throughout the southern region: Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan and Zabul," he said, noting progress in law enforcement, which had been plagued by corruption and inexperience, is being made in the region.
"It's a long process because they really started at a very low state in training in their systems. It's going to take a while to see all the fruits, but the key thing is getting them to work their system. We assist with that and help them plan operations. They are getting better. When we first got there," Connor said, "they were getting killed left and right in various ambushes and attacks."
The attorney embarked upon what he considered the most challenging mission of his military career in May and has been home on a two-week leave before returning to Afghanistan as a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard. Connor served as a commander of both light infantry and Ranger training companies during his Army career. The infantry major is now volunteering his service as a team leader of an elite infantry advisory team as part of the 218th Infantry Brigade.
"I only have four or five months left when I go back. The hardest part of this is the separation from my wife and three children," said Connor, a devout Christian who credits God has having protected him and his team amid the violence of their mission.
"One of the saving graces was the training that we went through for three months prior to leaving, but there's only so much training you can do when it comes to being thrust into a new mission. A lot of it comes down to your value system, your beliefs and just doing what's right," Connor said. "Most of the teams prayed before they went out, and I think most of us knew that God was sovereign over us. That relieved a lot of the stress, too."
A war of words was also fought off the battlefields, one which Connor said led to misconceptions among the region's Islamic population. The messages that while freedom "may look good, it doesn't work" and that democracy will only lead to decadence and licentiousness are among "the rhetoric from the Islamists that we face," he said.
"The Taliban, who still wish to come back to power, ... hate democracy, liberty, women's rights, religious freedoms. They are supported by millions of radicals throughout the world," said Connor, who touts as one of his personal heroes leading English abolitionist William Wilberforce, who said, "The only solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend no so much on her fleets and armies ... as on the persuasion that she still contains many, who, in a degenerate age, love and obey the Gospel of Christ."
As he looks toward the eventual completion of his mission, he wants to thank everyone who kept him and the rest of the servicemen in prayer.
"I just want to thank everyone for their prayers because God's been with us. We were very blessed all summer," Connor said.[