Centre Daily Times

Pennsylvan­ia native was last soldier out of Afghanista­n

- BY ANDREW MOLLENAUER

Eerie green-tinged photograph­s released last week by the Department of Defense show the commander of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division stepping off Afghan soil and onto a C-17 transport plane.

Hollidaysb­urg native Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue was the last American soldier to leave Afghanista­n.

“I got chills when I found out, but I wasn’t surprised one bit,” said local resident and Donahue’s best friend, Brad Shoemaker. “He looks out for others’ interests before his own and he’s a true American hero.”

Donahue, who has been deployed at least 17 times in his career, played an instrument­al role in evacuating Afghans and Americans from Afghanista­n as the U.S. concluded its nearly two-decades long war in August.

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Donahue left Kabul on Aug. 30 after being tasked with securing the airport and negotiatin­g with the Taliban in order to facilitate evacuation­s, according to a military.com article.

“Whatever you ask us to do, we can handle it,” Donahue recently said in an episode of The 18th Airborne Corps podcast. “It doesn’t matter if the conditions are perfect, if the conditions are very poor; it does not matter. We have been welltraine­d, well-led, we have complete trust in each other. We do not heavy breathe in this division. Whatever the nation needs, we got it.”

Donahue and Shoemaker have been best friends since the two were just 5 years old. Shoemaker said they lived across the street from each other and were inseparabl­e.

“We did all kinds of things together,” Shoemaker said. “We would shoot hoops every night. He’s just a great person.”

The pride felt by the people from Donahue’s hometown is immeasurab­le, according to Shoemaker.

“Words can’t describe how proud everyone from where we grew up is,” Shoemaker said. “Everyone is so proud to know him.”

Shoemaker is in awe of his friend’s endurance on the frontlines.

“What amazes me is he’s 52 years old and still fighting for our freedoms,” Shoemaker said. “It’s remarkable. He’s one hell of a person and very driven and always wants to do the best in everything he does.”

Kurt Widmann, one of Donahue’s former classmates, said the people of Chambersbu­rg, where Donahue moved in middle school, are proud and ecstatic.

“Our whole community and a lot of classmates knew him well and are extremely proud that a Chambersbu­rg graduate was in charge of evacuating our servicemen and women,” Widmann said. “He’s a class act and is very well-liked here.”

Widmann, who attended church camps with Donahue during their childhood, said his friend has always had a strong moral compass.

“Chris was always looking out for the little guy,” Widmann said. “He would do anything for anybody.”

Widmann, principal of Chambersbu­rg Area Middle School North, said he hopes Donahue will come to the school sometime in the future to talk to students.

Former Congressma­n Bill Shuster, who represente­d Pennsylvan­ia’s 9th Congressio­nal District from 2001-19, said he and Donahue are “very good acquaintan­ces.” The two first met when Donahue visited Shuster’s office in the early 2000s. In the years since, they ran into each other on numerous occasions before reacquaint­ing in 2016.

“I haven’t talked to Chris in some time, but I’ve followed him closely because when I saw it was Chris Donahue (who was the last to leave,) I said, ‘Hey, he’s from Hollidaysb­urg and Chambersbu­rg,’” Shuster said. “From a guy who comes from central Pennsylvan­ia, like I do, it’s great pride to know we have that quality of people in the U.S. military coming from our area. It makes me proud to know that Chris was there doing the job. I know he’s proud to be from central Pennsylvan­ia.”

Shuster, whose father, Bud, appointed Donahue to West Point in 1988, said Donahue’s service should bring pride to people from Pennsylvan­ia and beyond.

“It should make all Americans proud that we had a commanding general who made sure everybody was on board,” Shuster said.

Donahue’s nickname in the military is Flatliner, Shuster said, because of his calm and collected demeanor.

“He’s the kind of guy you want to be in charge in a tough situation,” Shuster said. “He’s a great American, a great guy, just a good person and very smart. He’s the kind of guy people ought to know about back home.”

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