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Second generation sent to Afghanistan

Ron Allen, Red Wing resident and retired colonel for the United States Army, poses with his son, Cliff, just before Cliff's deployment to Afghanistan at the beginning of November this year. Cliff is stationed near the location where his father served in 2003 and 2004.

In 2003, Red Wing resident Ron Allen was deployed to Afghanistan for his first combat tour overseas. Nearly a decade later, his son, Cliff, has been sent to the same country.

The Allens are just one of many families that have experienced multiple generations going to war -- the same war zone.

"A lot of our people that were there ... in 2011, '12 and '13 our children are coming in now," Ron said.

Despite spending time in the same location, both Ron and Cliff are developing very different memories of Afghanistan and the military in general, with technology being one of the main improvements.

"He carries a cellphone," Ron said of his son. "And we talk about once a week."

Ron, who retired from the military in 2008 after 31 years of service, said he didn't have a cellphone during his tour in Afghanistan, but was able to carry one while he served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

Not only can military personnel talk to their families much more frequently than they could years ago, but they typically get to return home sooner as well. Cliff deployed Nov. 5 and is expected to stay about eight months until the end of June.

"When I was there, I was there a full year," Ron said. "Now they've shortened the deployments to kind of lessen the load on the soldiers. It's interesting how things have changed."

As a colonel in the United States Army in 2003, Ron and his unit were in charge of building schools throughout Afghanistan. By supplying the funds and contracting out the work, they organized the construction of about 100 elementary schools.

"We were trying to win their hearts and minds through building schools in every town, and trying to bring their educational levels up so they could be a more functioning government," Ron explained. "Now the schools are operating but they need help policing themselves."

Cliff's job is exactly that. Previously a border patrol agent for the Texas National Guard, he was stationed in Mexico when his unit got called up to serve overseas. His role is to help southern Afghanistan's police departments and the Afghan Army Battalion.

The separate tasks Ron performed and those that Cliff is performing now have had them received very differently by citizens of Afghanistan.

"When I was there people appeared to like us a lot more than they do right now. When I would come into a village like the village (Cliff is) working in, all the school kids would be lining the road clapping and thanking us," Ron said. "Ten years later when he rolled into the city for the first time, kids are throwing rocks at his vehicles.

"It seems like it's a lot more dangerous than it was when I was out there, and the population isn't as supportive."

Because of more aggressive and risky situations, Ron said he hopes combat ends long before a third generation of his family is old enough to get involved in Afghanistan.

"When we're working harder for their freedom than they're willing to work, we need to leave."