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Flying flags help make this a Thanksgiving to remember

A special homecoming from Afghanistan greets LO's Gavin Colson
by: CLIFF NEWELL Judi Colson had a lot of help when she welcomed her son, Gavin, home from Afghanistan last week. Boy Scouts put up 75 American flags to honor the young Lake Oswego man.

Just five days after arriving in Afghanistan to serve as a U.S. Army specialist, Gavin Colson's vehicle exploded when it hit an IED placed by the Taliban.

Then things got worse.

For a year the Lake Oswego native served on an outpost that was under constant attack by the Taliban. When not trying to avoid rockets, mortars and mines, Colson had to perform duties like standing guard duty for four hours in minus-15 degree weather, then returning to a room with no heater.

'It was a rough year,' Colson said. 'Afghanistan is a hostile place. There were times I thought, 'Yes, this could be it for me.''

While Colson suffered on the field of battle, his family suffered back in Lake Oswego.

'This was probably the hardest year of my life,' said Judi Colson, Gavin's mother. 'Gavin was in such a scary, dangerous and hostile place.'

Colson is now back home and recovering from a year of terror and tension, and 75 American flags were a good way to start the spiritual healing. After Colson drove down Kruse Way on last Wednesday night he saw the flags on Westlake Drive, and they went all the way to his home on Greensboro Court.

A graduate of Lake Oswego High School, Colson joined the Army in 2010 along with a buddy because 'I wanted a once-in-a-lifetime experience.'

He succeeded in this goal beyond all expectations. After four months of highly intensive training in boot camp, Colson was sent to Afghanistan, and the trauma started immediately with the IED incident. Over three days he was checked to see if he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

'I told the Army not to call home, but they did,' Colson said. 'Mom started screaming and crying when she got the call.'

Colson survived to help the Army push the Taliban farther and farther away from the base, 'going out every day, planning fast, working fast.' One day he went on a daring helicopter attack to help secure a village. On a day in April, one of his friends was killed.

Near the end of his tour of duty, the Taliban turned the entire area around the base into a minefield, and as a gunner Colson had to stand guard while other soldiers used rakes and other tools to locate and disable the mines.

Being in Afghanistan gave Colson an entirely new definition of the word 'problem.'

'Now that I'm back, nothing is as bad as it seems,' he said. 'I saw complaints on Facebook, and I said, 'Look at me over here. I'm getting shot at and mortared every day. I'm getting four hours of sleep a night.''

Looking back on his year of war, Colson is satisfied that his unit succeeded in stopping the Taliban. But he is disappointed about the failure to change the hearts and minds of the Afghanis.

'As for the people themselves, they don't like us,' Colson said, 'even though we were there to help them. They don't like our way of life, probably because of their deep religious beliefs.'

Now, instead of ducking bullets and bombs, Colson is getting hugs from his mother. He still has a year and four months to go on his Army service, but he won't be returning to the war. He is winding down, learning how to breathe easily again, and making plans for the future.

'Now I want to enjoy life and do everything I can,' he said.