Ultimate Challenge

 

Triathlete Abe Rogers leaves college coaching to fight the Taliban in Kandahar

By Jonathan E. Kaplan '94
 

Abe Rogers ’95 is neither the first nor last Colby graduate to enlist in the Army. But he just might be among the oldest.

Specialist Rogers, 34, is part of the 1-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division based in Ft. Bragg, N.C. In mid-January, he flew to a U.S. Army base in Kyrgyzstan. He waited there for a week while the Army decided when and where to ship his unit.

On January 28 he landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after a two-hour flight. He’s been there ever since. Fighting the Taliban as part of a mortar platoon. By night, being ferried by helicopter into remote villages where he shoulders his 60-millimeter mortar and proceeds on foot. By day, searching for shade in 120-degree heat. Learning the art of diplomacy while conversing with villagers through a “terp,” an Army abbreviation for interpreter.

Former Colby swimmer Abe Rogers ’95, during training for deployment to Afghanistan as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
Former Colby swimmer Abe Rogers ’95, during training for deployment to Afghanistan as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

“We touch down in an open area and file out two by two, just like the animals on Noah’s Ark. We immediately form a perimeter and secure the landing zone, facing out with our night vision goggles,” Rogers wrote in an e-mail to friends back in the States.

It’s not a path anyone could have predicted, not recently, and not when he was a student.

An administraive science major and African studies minor, Rogers stood out among Colby athletes because of his training regimen. For some, a two-hour swim practice and 30 minutes of weightlifting are exhausting enough; Rogers would tack on a bike ride (indoors) or hit the track before the pool.

After graduating, Rogers became a nationally ranked triathlete—another unexpected move. In the early 1990s, the sport of triathlon was not nearly as popular as it is today. But Rogers embraced it, a Vermonter in a sport that originated in California and holds its premier race, the Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon), in Hawaii.

He moved to Colorado to train and race and, in 2000, he competed in the Olympic trials. But a snowboarding injury derailed his professional athletic career in 2002 and he moved back east to coach the MIT swim team and a master’s team at Boston University.  

And then Rogers defied expectations again, choosing, at 32, to serve his country in a very focused way—and over the objections of those close to him. “He’d been talking about it for several years,” said his stepfather, Rob Reiber. “We tried to talk him out of it. We have mixed feelings, but we certainly support him. ...

“I’m sure he’s going to be tested all the way through.”

Reiber described Rogers as tough, determined, and stubborn—traits not uncommon to endurance athletes. Once Rogers decided to enlist in the Army, nobody was going to dissuade him.  

“I know he was drawn to the physical challenge of being a soldier,” Rogers’s girlfriend, Kirsten Wenge, said in an e-mail. “But having gone through this past year with Abe, I’ve also learned that there are as many reasons to enlist as there are soldiers, and some of those reasons are tremendously personal.”

“I wanted to serve something other than myself,” Rogers said via e-mail from Kyrgyzstan. “The military seemed like a place where I could find fulfillment by serving my country and find personal challenge as well.”

In February 2006 the Army sent Rogers to 14 weeks of basic training and three weeks of airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the elite Army Rangers.

 
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Comments

  • On October 1, 2007, Jay Scott-Harris wrote:
    Does anyone have Abe's current e-mail address? I'm an old friend of his from his Colby days and would love to say hi personally to Abe.
  • On March 15, 2008, john verton wrote:
    your coming home soon, congrats on a great mission, son Mike verton. sgt A co.
  • On June 4, 2008, Betsy & Jim Bahrenburg wrote:
    Nate just sent this article to us. As always, good work, Abe!