Monday, May 28, 2007

Our New Home

I'm not sure how to write about this, but I'll do my best.

We are in the middle of nowhere. Actually, we are at the intersection of the Valley of Nowhere and the Valley of the Green Giant. I just haven't been able to see the Stokely water tower in the distance, but I know it's there. It took us a couple of hours over mostly bad roads to get here, and that ride was even more beautiful than the ride to Mehtar Lam. The farms and fields and trees are similar, but the valley is more spectacular than the rolling hills around Mehtar Lam. Lots of rice being grown, no apparent lack of water, lots of greenery until the mountain slopes begin to rise from the valley floor.

Here I've seen home-grown engineering like nothing I've ever seen before. Afghans are pretty much masters at managing water on the farm level. If they could do that on the national level they'd be in business, but that's another story. On the individual level, they do some fairly amazing things with primitive tools. Like parallel streams, one about 5 feet higher than the other. I've seen them carry a farm stream over a trench with a simple aquaduct made of branches and mud. I've seen them do some things bringing water into their paddies that people would pay to have in their back yards. They do all of this with the simplest of tools.

The children still break my heart. Today we did a convoy movement... only three vehicles... and when the children in each little village realized that American vehicles were coming through they came running out... mostly too late. It must have felt like missing the ice cream truck felt when I was a kid.

Here's a heartbreaker... a kid who for the second time (uh... that would be both times I've seen him in my life) signalled that he wanted a pencil and paper. He wasn't asking for candy, or for water even; he wanted paper and a pencil. I'm going to get him a pad and something to write with at the PX and toss it to him when we go by again tomorrow. An Afghan kid who wants to write... that's the future of Afghanistan.

We've got a huge challenge on our hands; the Afghan adults. The ANA have advanced a lot. Corruption is down, logistic efficiency is up, and the overall professionalism level has really gone up over the past several years. We are not working with the ANA now. Now we are working with the ANP (Afghan National Police.) They are not a Police force like an American would think of it... at least not yet. First, they must defeat an insurgency in their neighborhoods.

They are at this point more like the local armed militia. We are to work with them on Infantry skills as well as community policing concepts. They need to be able to defeat the Taliban when they encounter them, all while engaging the community. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

It's not.

The leadership are reluctant, possibly frightened. The soldier/policemen are ill-led. There is no direction, and no code of ethics. They have no professionalism. All of this will have to be built from the ground up.

They see no reason to change. They are getting paid for doing nothing... why should that change? One man with extensive experience in Afghanistan recently said, "Afghans are among the hardest working people on Earth... until you put a uniform on them." As we engage these leaders, we find a ton of excuses. We don't accept the excuses, but we must work through them. They try to tire us out with frustration. We will not give up. I've heard these excuses before... at homework time and bedtime. They really are that simple.

Afghans surprise me with their child-like qualities. It helps in this role to be a parent. I've seen this stuff before... from little kids. Nobody has ever made them accountable... at least not their public servants. The accepted norm is that they shake down the populace as a benefit of their office.

Afghanistan will not change to the extent that this country really needs until at least the next generation. The kid who points to his palm as we roll through, symbolizing his desire to write; he is the future of Afghanistan, but only if we don't quit on his dad. It's funny that we need to secure our own safety by teaching another civilization how to grow up.

We will teach these guys that they can defeat the Taliban when they meet them. The ANA did the same thing, and now they generally tear up the Taliban whenever there is a confrontation.

Once there is local security, all kinds of positive things will happen for the citizens... schools, water projects... all the stuff that people have time to work on when they aren't concerned about being shot at or blown up.


  1. Glad that you got to your destination safe and sound, we missed your posts!
    Good luck with this assignment, we are sure that you will make great progress in your endeavours.

  2. Hi,

    just found your site through "love America First" and wanted to give you my support! Thank you for what you are doing not only for the Afghans but also for us Americans by helping to keep us safe! Love you and all of your comrades! I would love to see some pics, are you guys taking any? Also, if there is anything we can do here at home to help please let us know!


    Alena Hennessy


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