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Soldier from Smithsburg to return to Afghanistan

March 27, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SMITHSBURG

Sgt. Matthew Hood sat at the edge of the table across from his wife, Stephanie, Saturday night. Their baby, Shane, 8 months, slept in a car seat on the floor by his father's left foot.

Down the long table at the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Waynesboro, Pa., sat 22 people, from infants to adults - all there to say goodbye to Matthew.

A soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., Hood, 23, heads back to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty next month.

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The couple returned home this weekend to say goodbye to family and friends before Hood ships out for his second Afghanistan assignment, a tour that is expected to last at least a year and a half.

He said he had no idea about the going-away party.

"They threw this at me," he said. He seemed to be pleased by the attention. Family members coming in late greeted him with hugs.

Hood graduated from Smithsburg High School in 2000. He left for basic training in February 2002.

He went to Afghanistan the first time in January 2003 and returned in August of that year. His unit has been training for the upcoming tour of duty, he said.

The couple lives in Fayetteville, N.C.

Stephanie, 19, attended South Hagerstown High School and finished her last year home schooling, she said.

They met on the Internet in May 2001 and maintained an online courtship for about six months. They took time to learn things about each other, he said.

When he finally decided it was time for them to meet in person, Stephanie was reluctant.

"She didn't want to meet at first," he said.

The first date, Oct. 1, 2001, was held at Stephanie's house under her mother's watchful eye.

"We watched television in the living room," Matthew said.

"I thought he was nice and cute," Stephanie said of their first meeting.

They were married a year later, in October 2002. Three months later, he was off to fight in Afghanistan.

Next month, their new separation begins.

Hood said he is "totally committed" to his country's mission in Afghanistan.

"We'll be getting ready for the new elections there later this year," he said.

A lot of Americans lose focus about the mission in Afghanistan, he said

His job is to provide fire support for the infantry and special forces in battle.

He was asked if he thought conditions for U.S. soldiers are safer in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

"It's not as hairy as it (is) in Iraq because we have more soldiers on the ground there, but the insurgents are the same," Hood said. "They won't fight straight up. They use rockets and roadside bombs like they do in Iraq."

No one in his unit has been killed, Hood said. "One guy was wounded," he said.

Hood said like Iraq, many insurgents in Afghanistan are from other countries.

"We have the same factions," he said. There are Afghan insurgents in Iraq and Iraqi insurgents in Afghanistan, he said.

Stephanie said it makes no difference to her whether her husband is fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"For him, Afghanistan is better," she said. "He knows where he is there. He knows his surroundings, so I feel better for those reasons."

She said she will return to Hagerstown to stay with her family until her husband comes home again.

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