By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — It would be a mistake for the United States to abandon its mission in Afghanistan, according to Army Sgt. Stephen Lewis, who is home for Christmas after a seven-month tour of duty there.
“We can’t just leave the country,” said Lewis, a 2001 North Andover High School graduate, warning that such a move would enable terrorists to again use Afghanistan as a base for an attack on America or other countries.
The war appears to be “winding down,” he said.
Lewis is a communication equipment specialist with the 101st Airborne Division. He spent a lot of his time advising Afghan police officers on how to use their communication gear.
He also provided support for an infantry company, he said. Security rules bar him from giving out any more information, he said.
Lewis, 30, has served in the Army for eight years. After graduating from North Andover High, where he played football, hockey and lacrosse, he went to Syracuse University.
He wasn’t ready for the rigors of higher education, however, so rather than continue “spending my parents’ money,” he enlisted in the Army.
“I needed to be useful,” he explained, so, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he decided that joining the Army was “the most useful thing I could think of.”
He served two tours in Iraq before his recent deployment to Afghanistan. Lewis did not come under enemy fire during any of his tours, he said.
“That remains to be seen,” he said when asked how long he intends to stay in the Army. For now, he is working on finishing his degree, which will be in liberal arts.
“That’s what I like,” he said. He has given some thought to pursuing a teaching career, he added.
Lewis said the Army has helped him acquire the self-discipline he lacked during his time at Syracuse.
“You have to find it (discipline) in yourself,” he said.
When a North Andover service member returns to his or her hometown after serving overseas, Veterans’ Services Director Edward Mitchell and the Patriotic Observance Committee make sure there are signs on the Common as well as downtown welcoming that person home.
Lewis said he was “a little embarrassed” at the recognition — but added that it’s “nice to be appreciated.” He also pointed out that many of the service members assigned to Afghanistan hail from Lawrence, North Andover and other Merrimack Valley communities.
“We should give them a pat on the back,” he said.
Lewis’ mother, Dale Lewis, resides on Vest Way. His brother Peter lives in St. Louis while his sister Christine lives in Iowa. His father, Jack Lewis, died in 2010.