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Retired Green Beret from Ottumwa is working to extract Afghan counterpart one year after military withdrawal

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

One year after the United States Armed Forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, we follow up with an Iowa veteran to get his thoughts on the exit.

Ottumwa native John Paluska was in his freshman year of college in New York City when he witnessed two commercial planes fly into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011. After the south tower collapsed, Paluska boarded an empty subway car headed toward ground zero, and helped search for survivors, clear debris, and recover human remains.

Soon after 9/11, Paluska went to a U.S. Army recruiting office to enlist. He went on to serve 10 years in the military, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Green Beret.

Courtesy of John Paluska
John Paluska of Ottumwa at ground zero of the World Trade Center following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. To his knowledge, he is the youngest volunteer to help with rescue and recovery efforts in New York City.

River to River host Ben Kieffer spoke with Paluska on the eve of 9/11's 20th anniversary last year to reflect on that day, his service in the U.S. Army and his work with the 9/11 Museum and Memorial Visionary Network.

As we near the first anniversary since the U.S. military's completion of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, we talk with Paluska about the exit, and his continued efforts to extract Afghan Special Forces counterpart Habib, who saved the lives of Paluska and other Green Berets while serving his country for 15 years alongside U.S. forces.

Habib Afghan special forces
courtesy of John Paluska
Paluska and other military veterans have supported Habib and his family financially since Afghanistan fell under Taliban rule. After a 12-day journey across Afghanistan through Iran and into Turkey, he was captured by border police, imprisoned and beaten before being taken back to his native country.


  • John Paluska, from Ottumwa, retired U.S. Army Green Beret, 9/11 recovery and rescue volunteer, co-founder of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Visionary Network
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Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Samantha McIntosh is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio. Prior to IPR, Samantha worked as a reporter for radio stations in southeast and west central Iowa under M&H Broadcasting, and before that she was a weekend music host for GO 96.3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.