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York County's Don O'Shell home after Afghan tour of duty

Greg Gross

York County Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell wasn't supposed to serve a shortened tour of duty in Afghanistan earlier this year.

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard lieutenant colonel's original destination was to be Kuwait, but a sad twist of fate changed that.

O'Shell was deployed to the war-torn Asian country to fill in for Air Force Maj. Phyllis J. Pelky after she was killed when the British RAF helicopter she and others were on crashed in October in Kabul, Afghanistan. The crash also claimed the lives of Air Force Master Sgt. Gregory T. Kuhse, two British troops and a French contractor, while two others on board survived.

"I heard so many stories from her roommate and people who knew her. They all said she was an outstanding person," O'Shell said. "I'm honored to have filled out her deployment."

To honor Pelky and other air advisers who died in Afghanistan, O'Shell joined other members of the military in an honor walk, during which they were laden down by 30 to 40 pounds of gear.

O'Shell returned stateside on Father's Day, just in time to celebrate his 10th anniversary with his wife after a roughly five-month deployment.

Return: June 28 was O'Shell's first return to his office inside the county's judicial center.

"Everyone was truly 100 percent concerned about you," Georgine Stauffer, the chief deputy of the clerk of courts office, told O'Shell after he addressed office staff. "We did miss you."

O'Shell came home bearing gifts for staff members. Each one received an Afghan-made patch, an exact replica of the Train Advise Assist Command – Air patch O'Shell wears on the shoulder of his fatigues.

While in Afghanistan, O'Shell was tasked with helping to increase the size of the Afghan Air Force and complete other human resources work.

He also flew a few missions that included dropping off military supplies in Kandahar and picking up the war dead, mainly young men.

"It really brought home the reality that a lot of young Afghans are dying in a senseless war," he said. "It's senseless in terms that they're young and dying."

O'Shell made it a mission to meet up with fellow York countian Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock, who's a U.S. Army colonel and is serving a yearlong tour on a base in another part of the country.

"It took me half a day to track him down," O'Shell said, adding Trebilcock is well.

Homelife: O'Shell kept tabs on the goings-on in York County, doing clerk of courts work when he could, and talked with his family via text and Skype regularly.

Now that he's back home, O'Shell expects to be back to work in the Clerk of Courts Office full time starting next week.

"You did us good and I appreciate you," said Brad Jacobs, the county's register of wills and clerk of orphans' court, who dropped by O'Shell's office to welcome him back.

— Reach Greg Gross at or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.