"You just have to come to grips with the fact that the second you get on that helicopter or the second that truck gets out of the last gate, this might be the last night for you," said Sgt. Conor O'Malley.

Sgt. O'Malley, who attends Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham, has been serving overseas in Afghanistan since September 2017. He and fellow parishioner Cpt. Steve Marthy spoke with The Evangelist about military life and keeping in touch with one's parish and faith when far from home.

Sgt. O'Malley is a staff sergeant and engineer sergeant with a Special Forces operational detachment. Cpt. Marthy served with the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in Afghanistan from September to December 2017.

Both men grew up in Latham and attended OLA before joining the military. Cpt. Marthy recently returned to the States and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. Sgt. O'Malley is unsure where he'll be deployed next.

Rev. Geoffrey Burke, pastor of OLA, asks for prayers for the soldiers in the bulletin each week. Father Burke is especially close to Sgt. O'Malley, having known him since he was just four years old.

"I pray for him every day," said the priest.

Long haul
The war in Afghanistan has been going on for 17 years -- the longest war in which the U.S. has fought. In August 2017, NBC News reported that approximately 8,400 U.S. troops were serving in Afghanistan, conducting counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda and ISIS and training Afghan forces.

In Sgt. O'Malley's experience, the Afghan people have gotten used to living in a war zone.

"Most people aren't fazed at all by our presence, which isn't a huge surprise after 17 years, but it never ceases to amaze," he said. "During one firefight we had, there were kids playing about 800 meters down the street from us, and we were engaged in a pretty intense grenade and rocket battle with the enemy. For them, it's just a weekly or monthly occurrence to see these gunfights."

While deployed, Cpt. Marthy conducted "guardian angel" training at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, training soldiers to provide security for advisors in the country.

Sgt. O'Malley can't speak about his team's mission or location in Afghanistan, but said he is also based at Kandahar Airfield. Special Forces are tasked with highly-dangerous missions.

"Our specialty is unconventional warfare," explained Sgt. O'Malley: halting enemy movements or insurgencies, for example; disrupting or overthrowing a government; or participating in guerrilla warfare.

The soldier has seen some friends get wounded, but said he has a good support system of friends and family with whom he can talk about his feelings.

"There are definitely experiences that I've had that have ingrained images in my head that I will never forget, but I'm fine mentally and emotionally," he said.

Destined for military
Despite the risks, both Cpt. Marthy and Sgt. O'Malley said they always knew they would enter the military.

"I was the first person to go into the military area in my family," Cpt. Marthy told The Evangelist. "I wanted to serve my country."

Sgt. O'Malley said he knew he wanted to serve since he was "young and playing with GI Joes." His inspiration to join the Special Forces -- also known as the Green Berets -- came from seeing the movie "The Green Berets," starring John Wayne.

Sgt. O'Malley attended Christian Brothers Academy in Albany and spent two and a half years at Fordham University in New York before joining the army. He was deployed to Afghanistan last September.

"It was definitely a huge change from life in America, and it all happened so fast it was difficult to feel nervous," he said.

Cpt. Marthy went to St. Pius X School in Loudonville and Shaker High School in Latham. He continued his education at the U.S. military academy at West Point, studying civil engineering. After graduating in 2010, he was sent to Hawaii for three years, studied engineering and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., until he was deployed to Afghanistan.

In touch
When overseas, Cpt. Marthy said that his base had WiFi, internet and phones that could contact the States. The base was in a secure area, so he would go running in the morning.

Still, he said, "you should always be on alert, even on the base. Everybody should be always looking out for something suspicious."

Sgt. O'Malley said that "WiFi messaging is pretty constant, except when we push to more austere locations to conduct operations." Skyping happens once a week to conserve data, but getting mail is his biggest morale booster, even though he said he's "terrible with writing back."

Father Burke said he tries to email Sgt. O'Malley to see how he is doing. The pastor likes keeping in touch.

In November, OLA's youth ministry sent a care package to the Kandahar Airbase for Cmdr. Marthy to distribute to Sgt. O'Malley and other troops. Simple items like snacks, soap, shaving cream and toothpaste were included in the package.

"It was nice getting those," Cpt. Marthy recalled. "It's nice to get care packages. Sometimes my wife or friends will send them."

That recognition, and prayers from those at home, are a help, said Sgt. O'Malley.

Faith in foxholes
He referenced the popular World War II quote, "There are no atheists in foxholes," to describe how his faith has been shaped by his service.

"As much as we play the predator role in operations...at some point on every mission, everyone thinks to themselves, 'God, please get me through this,'" he said. "Whenever I'd say that to myself, I'd always try to follow it up with something ridiculous like, 'And I promise I'll stop cursing the Red Sox,' just to make myself laugh."

A huge New York Yankees fan, Sgt. O'Malley said he's almost always worn his Derek Jeter or Aaron Judge t-shirt under his uniform when going out on a mission.

Having returned to the states, Cpt. Marthy is happy to be back with his wife and is hoping to run the Boston Marathon in April.

Sgt. O'Malley plans on spending time with family when he comes home. He's not sure when that will be, but he said he might also treat himself to a solo road trip to decompress. He loves to hike and bake and also to ride his motorcycle - much to his mother's dismay, he said.

Cpt. O'Malley reflected on his last deployment with gratitude that his battalion got through it.

"I was going to do anything it took to make sure my friends made it home safely," he said. "My grandmother always had a plaque in her house that I'd always think about. It read, 'Leave your troubles with God; He'll be up all night anyway.'"