Military service in Afghanistan bonds father-son team

By Rosemarie Howard

For Mormon Times

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 3:30 a.m. MDT

The chances of a father and son being assigned to the same area of duty in Afghanistan are pretty small.

“The odds of us getting stationed at the same base at the same time were slim to none,” according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Leichty. But they were — Mike as an adviser and trainer for the Afghanistan army and his son, Kurt, as a staff officer for the Joint Coordinating Body, Military Technical Agreement Branch.

Not only did they receive the same temporary duty assignment, but they ended up in the same section of Kabul as roommates.

“The biggest tender mercy of this assignment is the obvious hand of the Lord in bringing Kurt and me together as roommates during this entire deployment,” the father said. “We were surprised at how many people were amazed that we wanted to live together and that we enjoyed it.”

Mike Leichty worked mostly with Afghans. Although he couldn’t talk openly about religion, he made friends with numerous children who ranged from 5 to 13 years old.

“They come to this location specifically to sell their goods — scarves, bracelets, books, etc., to coalition forces as they walk between bases,” Mike Leichty said. The Leichtys said they enjoyed talking with the children and knew many of them by name. “They made some sweet connections,” Mike’s wife, Terri, said.

“Most of the girls sell scarves,” the elder Leichty said. Although only 12 percent of women in Afghanistan have up to a third grade education, Mike Leichty said these street children spoke reasonably good English, could write and were very adept at doing business, thanks to a nearby German-run school.

“Mike bought many scarves from the girls,” Terri said. “Selling 10 scarves a day at $5 a scarf, they could earn as much as an Afghan doctor makes in a month.”

Kurt Leichty had many opportunities to teach “unofficial” missionary discussions on almost a daily basis to men he worked with.

“I have spent countless hours in an office that fills up with almost every military member in the hallway, explaining basic principles of the gospel,” Kurt said. He often left an Ensign magazine on a conference table next to his desk.

“Someone would always pick it up, thumb through it and start a conversation,” he said. “Everyone would take a quick 'non-coffee' break to learn about eternal families or the importance of free agency.”

Both Kurt and Mike also served in the LDS Church's serviceman's group there.

The Leichty family has another unusual distinction: five members simultaneously serving in active military duty. That makes Terri a five-star flag wife and mother — and very proud of the five men in her family serving in the U.S. Air Force. “My men are as patriotic as Captain Moroni,” Terri said. They include her husband Mike, sons Jan, Kurt and Russ and son-in-law Ryan.

One of the highlights of the Afghanistan deployment for the family was the opportunity for Kurt to administer the Air Force commissioning oath of office to his brother, Russell, via Skype.

“I commissioned Jan (the oldest son),” Mike said. “Jan commissioned Kurt, and now Kurt commissioned Russ, even while separated by 10,000 miles.” Mike also commissioned his son-in-law, Ryan.

As ambassadors for the gospel of Jesus Christ, Leichty family members have spoken with numerous people — from four-star generals to people in the streets.

Afghanistan District President Gene Wikle nicely summed up the mission most military members of the church perform, “We share the gospel quietly through the way we live.”

Rosemarie currently lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street in Springville, Utah. She recently finished work on a documentary for BYU-TV titled "Wei, MinZhi: Daughter of Miracles." Her website is www.dramaticdimensions.com

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