18-year-old US soldier to serve in Afghanistan 18 years after conflict began

US Army(NEW YORK) — Pvt. Hunter Nines is about to join a war nearly as old as he is.

The 18-year-old discussed with ABC News his impending combat deployment to Afghanistan — his first with the Army.

“I didn’t have a lot of thoughts on Afghanistan in particular,” said Nines, who was 7 months old when U.S. troops first arrived there. “I honestly just had the notion of I wanted to serve, and wherever that is, that’s where I’ll go.”

“I’m just excited to go and do my job,” he added.

The Blackhawk helicopter mechanic will be serving with the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, which soon will be deployed to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Nines will be following in the footsteps of 775,000 other Americans who have served at least one tour in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, when U.S. troops first arrived to target al-Qaeda following the attacks of Sept. 11 in New York and Washington.

Nines said he hasn’t given much thought to the fact he’ll be serving in a conflict that’s been going on since he was an infant.

“Honestly, I don’t think a lot about it,” he added. “All I know is that I’ve got a job to do, and that we’re still over there right now and it’s not done yet.”

“I’m going to do what I’ve been trained to do,” he added.

The Rocky Point, North Carolina, native joined the Army last year at the age of 17 after his parents gave permission, which is required for Army recruits younger than 18.

Department of Defense statistics reflect the increasing shift in demographics of service members such as Nines who were babies or not even yet born on Sept. 11, 2001, which led to what’s become America’s longest war.

Nines is among 15,364 active-duty enlisted Army members who are 18 — 1,052 of whom were born after the 9/11 attacks and 725 of whom were born after Oct. 7, 2001, and are still just 17.

The Marine Corps, for comparison, counts 28,048 active-duty Marines aged 17 to 19.

Nines acknowledges that the 9/11 attacks played only a small factor in his decision to enlist.

“This was a lot different for me growing up and stuff because certainly a lot of people they saw it happen on TV,” he said. “But, I mean, I read about it in history, and I’ve learned about these things.”

Nines said a bigger influence on his decision to enlist was hearing about positive experience in the armed forces from friends and neighbors.

“I really liked the camaraderie they had and the care and interest they showed in me wanting to pursue it, and it’s something that I just always really wanted to do,” he added.

Nines’ unit has a long history in Afghanistan. Elements of that the 10th Mountain Division were among the first to arrive in late 2001. The deployment of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will mark the 34th time an element of the 10th Mountain Division has served in Afghanistan since then.

Nines estimates “about 95%” of his non-commissioned officers have served in Afghanistan before and have provided him with practical advice about his deployment.

“From what they’ve told me, it’s more maintenance, more work, more flying — obviously more missions since we’re going to be overseas — but nothing really a lot different than doing my job back home,” he said.

Reflecting on how dangerous Afghanistan remains, Nines said he’ll also serve as a door gunner during missions transporting troops and equipment. So far this year, 17 American service members have been killed in combat in Afghanistan, the deadliest year there for U.S. forces since the combat mission officially ended in December 2014.

Most of the 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan now serve in a NATO-led mission to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces in their fight against the Taliban and ISIS affiliates.

But while Afghan security forces have improved, that’s included engaging in heavy fighting with Taliban forces that now control almost half the country.

President Donald Trump has advocated withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, but in early September he ended peace talks with the Taliban after an American soldier was killed in Kabul.

It remains unclear if those talks could result in a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s possible U.S. forces still could be there when Nines’ Army contract expires in six years.

Nines acknowledged there’s always going to be uncertainty surrounding the security situation in Afghanistan.

“It’s nothing that I’m nervous about,” he said. “It’s more of just anticipation and excitement.”

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