Friday, March 28, 2008

Last Look At Afghanistan Up Close

I remember arriving in Kabul just about a year ago. It was night, and we did a short convoy from the airport to Camp Phoenix. Today we left Phoenix for the last time and moved to another location from which we will leave the country.

Last year, there was nobody out and about as we rolled through the streets in the back of a five ton truck with a bench seat down the middle of the bed so that we faced outwards. All of the smells of Kabul were there in the night air; the strange not-quite-woodsmoke smell that I would smell thousands of times over the course of the past year, the occasional whiff of sewage, the smell of dust and exhaust and poverty.

The woody smoke smell would turn out to be a combination of wood and animal manure, shaped into round patties. Afghans make great use of animal manure as fuel.

We caught glimpses of a strange, ancient world blended with the 21st century; mud brick walls connected at times by electrical wires and the odd satellite dish. Dirt roads that felt the hooves of animals daily with Toyota Corolla's parked in alleyways.

Over the course of the year, I would spend hundreds of hours on the worst roads imaginable, out in the middle of nowhere, humvee working hard, and here would come the ubiquitous (and I am not using that term lightly; I mean ubiquitous) Toyota Corolla headed in the opposite direction, often crammed to the gills with Afghans. Sometimes it would be just one guy. I have never seen a woman operate ANY piece of equipment in Afghanistan.

Unless you count goats as equipment. I was thinking motorized transport or farm equipment.

Today we moved by armored bus, which is a step up from an up-armored humvee comfort-wise. We had armed exscort... in UAH's... but we were just like tourists on our way to a tour of the local cheese factory.

As we rolled through the streets, I took in the sights that no longer surprise me, but I noticed one thing that I never ever ever got used to.

Children sorting through a pile of garbage. I don't know if they were doing it out of hunger or out of curiosity or looking for stuff that could be sold, but that sight just screams in my brain. It may be that they are just industrious little capitalists, but to me it is a spear of bone-crushing poverty being lanced into my visual cortex.

It is visually painful. It is emotionally painful. It is heart-wrenching the way that the Christian Children's Fund commercials intentionally try to be.

Try seeing that for real; barefoot kids in the middle of a pile of trash, picking through it looking for God knows what.

Okay, so I saw that today... possibly, probably, hopefully for the last time.

There were a lot of other sights that I said goodbye to easily; the mud brick Afghan construction, burqa-clad women moving like blue trick-or-treaters down the side of the street, haphazard electrical wires strung on flimsy poles running between houses like a drunken spider web. I won't miss the general shabbiness, the vague feeling of quiet desperation, the feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems; the destruction.

I am glad to be an American. We don't know what we've really got; we take it for granted. Overseas, our flag is a symbol of so much. It stands for things that citizens of other countries resent us for in a lot of ways, but they envy us, too.

Sometimes we are proud of the wrong things; we don't even know the preciousness of what we have. We are so lost in ourselves that we misidentify our real strengths; but they are there.

One thing that we take for granted is the intactness of our seemingly fractal society. Our infrastructure, which we sometimes become exasperated with, is so intact. Infrastructure; roads, bridges, electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection... it's so fragile. It's the stuff that takes years to build and lots of time to maintain, and it's the first thing to get blown to pieces when significant groups of people fight with each other over control of a society.

Our political system is robust; our wars are mud-slinging contests replete with slick graphics and such childish buffoonery as portraying opposing political candidates as having red palms, being puppets, and assailing their characters on all levels. There is no shooting. There are no battle lines. There are no ad hoc checkpoints where any evidence of support for the opposing candidate draws immediate execution.

Not only do we have the liberty to live our lives, for the most part, as we see fit, but we have the established Republic that gives us the freedom from internecine war and allows our work to stand.

This, of course, is what drives American anarchists completely insane, for they cannot possibly recruit enough nutcases to tear it all down. It takes work to destroy a country so thoroughly as Afghanistan has been destroyed.

Then it takes work and a long long time to build back up what has been torn asunder.

We live in a country where the work of our fathers and mothers still stands. We live in a world where destruction is a scheduled event to make space for new construction. We have throngs flocking to have good seats for the explosive-powered implosions of major structures, instead of throngs fleeing cities because of them.

We don't have so many tiny little graves. Afghanistan is full of tiny graves. I will not miss seeing them. I will not miss that javelin to the visual cortex that cleaves the heart.

I will not miss the incessant dust and dirt. I will not miss the constant question; does this guy want to kill me?

I will not miss being held in a Hesco prison.

God only knows what the future holds. I am not a youngster, and it is possible that I may not be called upon, or permitted, to do my part for my country again in such a way. I know that my children would like that. I promised a Colonel that I would not retire upon my return, and I will hold true to my word; but the fact remains that I may not be given another opportunity to perform such a service for my country, my family, my friends.

In short; it is quite possible that all of those scenes have been seen by me for the last time ever in person.

I am a volunteer; I had to struggle to get here, and it has been my great privilege and honor to have been here to do what I have done, see what I have seen, and hopefully make what contribution one man can make in one tour; to have served. Now the Afghan portion is over, and I have survived. I'm still in Afghanistan, but I'm in a safe enclave just scant yards from where the wheels of the Freedom Bird will leave Afghan soil for my last time. My days of conops and operational mentoring are over. Just a little more to endure before I can once again hold my children in my arms again and feel their warmth.

I hope that I never lose this sense of reality; that we are incredibly lucky to have such a place as America, that I have four healthy children who will have the luxury of taking it all for granted. I will try to tell them what I have learned of the preciousness of all that they have and all that we are, but how do you convey that to anyone?
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Semper Gumby

Well, we still don't know when we are flying out of Afghanistan, and we don't know for certain when we will be released from Ft Riley to go home; but that's par for the course, really.

When things are constantly changing, as they have so many times during this deployment, there is a simple motto to keep us going; "Semper Gumby." Semper Gumby is Latin for "Always Flexible."

The ancient Greeks, the same good people who invented Latin, also invented Gumby. This was proven by the recent finding of a several thousand year old Gumby at the site of the battle of Marathon.

Okay... I made that part up. Except for the part about Latin. The Greeks did invent that. That part is true.

Semper Gumby does mean, "Always Flexible," though.

Gumby is the ultimate warrior. The Chuck Norris fans (Norissians) would disagree and cry out that Chuck Norris could roundhouse kick Gumby into next week; but that's not true. His head would go into next week, but due to his flexibility, his feet would remain in this week, and he would simply unbend himself back into the same time frame as his feet, thereby defeating Norrissian mojo.

Flexibility is the key. All else leads to insanity and pissing off the leadership who make the plans that require the ultimate in flexibility from those who must execute them with no visible means of support.

"With flexibility comes serenity. With serenity comes power. He who is capable of bending like the Gumby will pass through great forces without shattering to overcome his foe." -- Sun Tsu*

Gumby maintains an M-240 machine gun at an undisclosed FOB

It doesn't matter what someone in a position of apparent decision-making ability says, because it will change. Rigidity in the face of such rapid changes of direction will result in cracking, peeling, chafing, and an overwhelming irritation. Combat Rigidity Fatigue is a major contributing factor in many cases of PDCD (Post Dysfunctional Command Disorder.)

Gumby prepares to head out on another exciting patrol

Working with Afghans also requires a great deal of flexibility. Afghans will drive the mentally rigid to distraction with their sometimes unpredictable, seemingly whimsical behavior. Gumby was heavily involved in all of our mentoring and advising operations with the ANP.

Gumby mentoring the ANP on flexibility operations

Dealing with Afghan civilians requires a gumbylike flexibility, too. Nothing will screw up your timeline like an Afghan who suddenly decides that his 50 goats need to be on the other side of the road. Gumby is vigilant, yet flexible to deal with capricious Afghan conditions while on combat patrols.

Gumby maintains vigilant flexibility on a combat patrol

Gumbyish flexibility is a combat multiplier, which is militarese for, "it makes you fight better." Counterinsurgency operations require a particular flexibility. This isn't some barren wasteland where there are only two opposing armies. The enemy here dresses in no special uniform. His forts are mud-walled khalats that look just like every other mud-walled khalat. It takes flexibility to work your way into the cracks between the average working Afghan and the local Talibs.

Gumby says, "If you can't find a crack, go in a window."

There is a lot of beauty in Afghanistan, as well as the mind-numbing poverty and, of course, rocks. Gumbyish flexibility permits one the mental room to appreciate the quiet moments of combat, too. The peaceful serenity of a mountain stream is still the peaceful serenity of a mountain stream in the midst of war.

Gumby enjoys the peaceful serenity of a mountain stream.

If the Russians had Gumby, the Soviet Union would never have collapsed, the Berlin wall would never have fallen, and we would all be quoting Marx to avoid being beaten with sticks. The Russians did not have Gumby, because Gumby is all-American (the part about the ancient Greeks being made up,) and he demonstrates the amazing flexibility of Americans. Being made of gumbyite, the most flexibly tough element in the universe, he is the only thing that cannot be destroyed by a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick. If Chuck Norris and Gumby ever teamed up, they could conquer the known everything, and Gumby would let Chuck Norris be the emperor of everything because he is just that damned flexible.

Gumby saved the free world.

"Semper Gumby!"

* Okay, I made that part up, too. I don't know if Sun Tsu ever said such a thing, but you can't prove he didn't, either. He just didn't actually write it in his best-selling book The Art of War.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Out Processing Up The Chain

When you leave a theater of operations, you have to "out process." Out processing means filling out paperwork, clearing hand receipts* and making sure that you don't have any open issues, like legal issues or investigations. Here at Camp Phoenix, the headquarters of Task Force Phoenix (the people who I've supposedly been working for this year,) we are out processing for the third time. Each subordinate command has its own out processing, because each subordinate command has had some responsibility for us (at least on paper,) and some have actually given us equipment to use that they need returned.

Some of this has been purely ceremonial. We belonged in name only, gaining no support from that organization whatsoever. At least nothing that was visible at my level; dirt level.

We have been called heroes by some senior officers. I know a couple of guys who are in for hero-type awards, but for the rest of us it's just a verbal pat on the ass. The guys that I know who are in for hero-type awards deserve them; O and his old boss, MAJ Stone Cold. O saved an ANP's life under fire when the RPG he was firing exploded as he fired it, and MAJ Cold gathered up a bunch of ANP during an ambush and attacked up a mountain towards his attackers, breaking the ambush. Ferocious.

Ferocious is not what would come to mind if you met him in person without knowing what he has done. It's funny, but it's true. He is one of the finest officers that I have ever known. He does his job to the best of his ability with seemingly limitless energy and an underlying sense of humor about what he is wrapped up in. He's not a superman, but the heroes that I know are not supermen. The only thing that separates them from anyone else is what they do when the chips are down. There are no visual clues, and while O could be described as very confident in his abilities, he's not the cockiest man I know.

Actually, the cockiest man that I know is a demonstrated coward. He can't get enough of telling others how great he is, and he can't take cover and stop doing his job fast enough when a shot is fired.

MAJ Cold looks like the contract manager that he was before he came here. He carries no air of cockiness whatsoever. He carries an air of capability, but he carries no air of ferocity. But when he and his ANP were getting shot at, he dismounted his nicely armored humvee, grabbed his ANP by the shoulder, and said, "We're going up there," and he went.

And they followed him.

Soldiers tend to be cocky. Elitism is something to be admired, and the right to wear some badge or tab is a sought-after thing. But I'm here to tell you that the badges and tabs and patches and swagger don't make anyone a hero. You can't pick the real ones out of a crowd, and the only ones that you can know of are the ones who have actually had the situation thrust upon them and did more than many would. Not that doing one's job under fire isn't admirable; it is. There are many who do that; but that's the job. It's what's expected. We are soldiers. There aren't many who get out of the vehicle while bullets are flying around and they don't have to and they do more... not to be showy, but because there is something that they know needs to be done, and they do it. Nobody would have faulted O or MAJ Cold for staying inside their vehicles and continuing the mission from right there; nobody except them.

But the rest of us have been called heroes... it should have been accompanied by a clown horn noise.

There were some interesting things from the General's little out-brief today, though. You would expect him to have the statistics, the big picture. Apparently we made a big difference with the ANP. Ten times more of them were dying before we picked up the mission to work with them. District centers were being lost on occasion. Where we are working with them, they have lost no district centers, and their death rate has decreased to a tenth of what it was.

They still die ten times more often than ANA soldiers, but that's the nature of the beast. They are the softer target. They operate in much smaller numbers and they don't have the heavy weapons of the ANA.

There are stages of insurgency, and last year... the bloodiest year since we entered Afghanistan... the Taliban tried to take it to the next stage. They tried to take on government forces head to head conventionally. It didn't work out so well for them. The government of Afghanistan is operating in more places now than it was a year ago. I've seen it with my own eyes. Valleys that were contested a year ago are relatively peaceful, and valleys where there was no IRoA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) presence are now in the process of becoming governed. The boundaries of ungoverned Afghanistan are shrinking.

The Taliban isn't on the run, but they are being squeezed. Of course, the Taliban aren't the only ones out there. There are warlords and criminal gangs and some of the same players who helped push Afghanistan into chaos when the Soviets left. There are corrupt government officials, and there are corrupt Army officers and ANP officers. There are drug lords and there are villagers who will grow opium until someone forces them to stop.

Afghanistan looks like a kaleidoscope of problems, and it is. There is no quick or simple cure for all of this, and it is frustrating and confusing. I'd say that many of us feel frustrated and beaten down by this past year. Some of my brethren don't see any hope for Afghanistan. They come by it honestly, but I disagree. I see hope. I have seen progress. I have seen change; small, slow, but it is there.

The easiest answer is, "Nope; we're wasting our time here. This country will never amount to anything."

I can tell people at home that we are making a difference, we have made a difference here... but it is enormously taxing on the soldiers who are out there in little teams here and there all over the country. This is like doing occupational therapy with a severely brain damaged drug addict who suffers from delusions of normalcy and harbors resentments against the therapist. Oh, and the patient's evil cousin, who shares a love-hate relationship, keeps smuggling drugs into the ward.

Good old Cousin Pakistan. The Pakistani involvement is as plain as day to us. Most of us have seen Pakistani's here. They were employed, and they weren't on vacation.

I saw a sign today in, of all places, the JAG office. It struck me. It was a picture of two guys wearing body armor, weapons present, sitting on a crumbling khalat wall... it could have been anywhere in the country, and they could have been any of us. The sign said, "What have you done for the ETT's today?"

What indeed. Who made this sign, and why did they hide it in the JAG office among the Dilbert cartoons and all of the other stuff all over the wall? It struck me that this was the only original thought that I'd seen at Camp Phoenix. What should be the driving philosophy behind the whole organization is an anomaly on a lawyer's wall.

There is not a single one of us who were out there in the teams who feels like we were well-supported. There's a lot more that could be said about that, but that's the short story. We felt like we were truly "out there." We felt like this place was on another planet. If someone said, "Oh, they've got those at Phoenix," when we needed something, our reaction wasn't, "Oh, thank God! We're saved!" It was, "Crap. We'll never see it."

Being here brings feelings of resentment from ETT's and PMT's. We universally hate this place. It is a symbol to us of being out there, at the mercy of whatever unit was closest to us (a lot of that was a good experience... the 82nd and 173rd did good things for us a lot... but sometimes not,) and feeling like this place was a self-contained puzzle palace with no direct bearing on our success.

They sure as hell wanted us to wear their patch, though. None of us really want it. We aren't wearing it now. It was bragged to us today about how some staff guys had busted their hump to get us special antennas that we had to pull teeth from chickens to get ahold of. We never did see enough of them. We borrowed from the 82nd. We still didn't have what we needed. Nope, this place is a self-contained Peyton Place of social intrigue and we hate being here. Any place where soldiers have enough time on their hands to form a prostitution ring is a place where they are not connected to the war. Nobody goes out of their way to spend the night at Phoenix.

Where we were, saluting was basically your way of telling an officer that you wished someone would shoot him. Around here you can wear your arm out saluting. Officers are plentiful and salute-hungry.

Nope, this place is just another waypoint to do paperwork and justify their existence. O and MAJ Cold's awards have had to pass through here on their way to CSTC-A** for approval, and they still can't tell anyone with any degree of veracity where those awards are right this minute. They were submitted months ago, and I don't mean two. Actually, both of their awards have been downgraded once already. Nobody will stand up for these guys and really push to have them recognized as much as possible. O got a pat on the ass today, and his accomplishment was trivialized by calling all of us heroes. Yeah, yeah, talk is cheap and so are ARCOM's.

Every one of the senior officers who have spent all of their time here on this camp will go home with a Bronze Star, minimum. Every one.

So, that's irritating.

There is a feeling of accomplishment, and there is a feeling of wanting to grab the wily Afghan speckle-throated bull fobbit by the neck and shake it like a terrier with your favorite slippers, and there is a feeling of simmering tolerance for any amount of bullshit that they want to put us through so that we can go home and be with the people who truly matter to each of us.

*hand receipt: a way that the government has of giving you equipment that you need to do your job and keeping track of it so that you can return it when you are finished using it... but in the meantime, you are responsible for it.

**CSTC-A: Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan; they are Task Force Phoenix's higher headquarters.
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Marking Time


How much patience does it take to wait through wasted time while your kids wait for you over 7000 miles away?

How much patience does it take to wait for days to do ten minutes worth of out processing and then wait for days to do the next little bit?

How much patience does it take to out process at a place that you never in processed, just so that an intermediate command can assert its authority?

How much patience does it take to spend three days to go to that intermediate command to do their dog and pony show before you can finally go to the final authority and get your ass out of the country?

Less than I've got.

I'm sure that there will be more back at Ft Riley. There I will take my time and make sure that my medical stuff is straight and I have my I's dotted and my T's crossed as best I can.

Here, I will stand on my head, spit nickels, and sing patriotic songs if they want for me to. I know that it all leads to one place; home. It all leads back to my kids, and it has become like water... it all flows towards that sea.

There is a part of me that already misses being operational. There is a part of me that feels a sense of having abandoned the Afghans that I was working with. There is part of me that will forever remain here in the dust, mountains, fields, villages, khalats, district centers, and FOB's of Afghanistan.

There is part of me that will remain forever in the moment of recognition of the young man with half of his head gone; a moment of heartbreak and anger and powerlessness and denial and acceptance. So real that it will never go away.

There are other moments that will hold a part of me forever.

But those moments are also part of me now, too. Am I diminished by leaving a part of myself here or am I more than I was before by virtue of the same?

This is not the end.

In the meantime, there is patience.
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Rugby Is A Mood Altering Activity

There hasn't been much of two things required for writing lately; time and motivation. The time issue is pretty obvious, there has been lots of travel. O, Maniac, and I are back at Dubs now, reunited with the original team. Everyone's got stories to tell, and everyone is fine... for the most part.

Mac and Cowboy have been key players in getting nearly everyone on the team into an exercise regimen called P90X that has yielded tremendous results for them. The change in the Cowboy is very visible. They are in great shape. O, Maniac and I were busy working with the ANP downrange until the day got pretty close, so we are in the worst shape on the team. Funny how that works. Most of the rest of the guys have lost all kinds of weight and are looking good. There are a couple of notable exceptions.

We won't talk about that, though.

Seeing the guys again is good. I have been the farthest flung from the team, winding up out east all by myself (no original team members around me,) so I felt a little out of place at first. I have also been wrestling with my anger and frustration with the overall American situation here. So my motivation to write has been low... when you don't have something good to say....

The original team has been working closely with the French these past few months, and so last night the French threw a little party for us. Our Sergeant Major secured some steaks and charcoal and the French brought a lot of French things, like different cheeses and baguettes and foie gras.

Most of the French are with the Foreign Legion. Legionnaires are really good guys, and all of the French soldiers are pretty good guys once you get to know them. There is a bit of a language barrier at times, but a lot of the French speak a little English at least. Some of them speak English quite well. We played some volleyball and then it happened; a rugby game broke out.

I played Rugby once in college as a stand in. I had no clue what I was doing. None of us knew what we were doing last night. A Foreign Legion Sergeant Major who is originally from South Africa coached us on it as we went along, and he was very patient and did a wonderful job.

We just knew that we got to tackle people.

It was more fun than human beings should be allowed by law. We wound up taking the net down on the sand volleyball court behind the FOB and just going at it. The Legionnaires were tough, but we finally wound up winning. I've got to try that P90X stuff, because the Cowboy runs like a squirrel on crack now. He's here, he's there, zipping around... running across wires... up and down the Hesco's... scoring "tries" (the rugby equivalent of a touchdown) and generally scooting about like a cocaine-enhanced arboreal rodent. He's got too much energy, and he's very quick. It has to be a great fitness program. It was hilarious.

Okay, I was kidding about the wire running and Hesco climbing, but the rest of it is true.

Everyone had a good time. Everyone wound up banged up, too. Injuries included various abrasions and contusions, bumped heads, kicked body parts, sand in the eyes, a couple of human bite wounds, a cut lip, and a broken big toe. Honorable wounds acquired battling against the French Foreign Legion on foreign soil. Now that's a good day of wholesome fun.

You can't help but have fun playing a game that includes something called a "scrum."

The team of guys from America beat the French Foreign Legion at rugby, but it didn't matter. Everyone had a good time, and we were all sharing a lot of laughs by the end of the evening.

This morning the doc told me that there's not much that can be done for my toe. It'll heal.

We still don't know exactly how we're getting back to Ft Riley, or exactly what day. Some of the plans briefed have included zodiacs, unicycles, and Radio Flyer wagons. I'm not concerning myself with it. I know that we are talking about a spread of a couple of days in either direction, not a year. Just another example of amazing staff work done by our joint services in the theater of combat operations.

Yes, God bless staff officers; every one.
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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Repent! The End Is Near!

I've been back at my current FOB for over a week now, and have made a conop* to Kabul and back in the meantime. The day after we got here, we made a major thrust into the country to the north of here, which is generally accepted to be "Indian Country." It was sudden, it was in force, and it was a surprise.

The enemy did nothing.

He didn't fail to act because he was so frightened of our massive firepower. He just didn't know that we were coming, and it was too late to throw an impromptu party, so he watched how we operate. He noted how we move, what kind of weapons, how long our helicopters can stay on station, and where we appeared to be vulnerable. He noted what kind of things we seem to be interested in, and where our vehicles seemed to have problems.

We returned completely unscathed. For some, it was their first foray into such territory. To me, it was just like any trip into The Valley. As I wrote to a friend recently, it's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

That friend, who happens to be a professional writer, clued me in to a co-worker who coined the phrase (no, it wasn't Forrest Gump,) a writer for The Washington Star. That was my trivia for the week, and now it's yours.

Speaking of The Valley, I had my last trip into The Valley while I was in Bagram. My old team was going down there, and I was waiting for a flight to my FOB (they don't happen every day) and I couldn't sit on my thumbs while my buddies went down there, so I hitched a ride as an extra gun. It, too, was uneventful. A convoy got shot up there the next day, but our trip was like a drive in the park. Box of chocolates.

I got to talk with some guys down there who worked a little with my old bunch of ANP, and one of the guys, who I will write about later, told me that the ANP there still talk about me. I can't explain how that makes me feel. Having the respect of the Afghans I've worked with so closely means the world to me. It was one of the coolest things I've heard all year.

I also got to have one last operational ride with O and the Maniac and Jacques Pulvier. MAJ (Stone) Cold was there, too. He's being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel any time now. There is some justice in the Army after all.

That man is one of the finest officers I've ever met in my 26 year career.

When I leave this country, I will be free to write a bit more freely about where we were, and some of the circumstances that we were in. There are a lot of stories that haven't been told. I plan to tell a few of them.

I've been really careful about OPSEC, and I've been really careful about personal security as well. I've made a big point of it. OPSEC won't be as big an issue when I get home, and when the rest of our teams get home. I could write about The Valley now, but I'm just going to wait until we're home. Many of the events that occurred there happened months and months ago. OPSEC isn't the concern there, it's just as well to wait.

In about a week I will leave this FOB where I've only spent a couple of months... and been gone for almost half of one of those for a four day pass. I've gotten to work with the local ANP, but not like I came to know the men up in The Valley. It takes awhile, and some shared difficulty and challenge, to establish that kind of bond. There hasn't been that kind of time or challenge here. They're good guys, and I love working with Afghans, even when they are three different flavors of f*(%ed up.

If it weren't for missing my kids so much, I'd stay for a few more months... except my own Army is seriously pissing me off. I've seen so many things I never thought that I'd see from my own team. I've seen things I can never write about, and I don't want to get into bashing, but I will say that I am shocked, dumbfounded, amazed, and pissed off.

None of the above relates to any acts of barbarism or war crimes. Let me say that; more acts of extreme parochialism and fraternal cannibalism. Try to make sense of that, if you will. I am sick of it, and so I will go home. I will write about some of it later, and I will write some of it for Army eyes in the vague and mildly insane hope that it will make a difference to someone somewhere who can do something about it. We repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot by shooting our brethren in the foot and thinking that it is not, in fact, our own foot.

Many of these things are institutional problems. Just the way it is, more or less.

We are winning this war, no matter what anyone says, no matter what the New York Times says, we are winning. The improvements that I've seen since I've been here are many and significant. I've seen so many roads built, so many soldiers trained, I've seen rank reform begun within the ANP, I've seen corruption uncovered and worked on, I've seen soldiers who get paid on time when in the past they were getting paid late and getting shaken down for it. I've seen the ANP receive new equipment, I've seen them begin to function. I've seen it spreading like an inkblot.

The ACM* have ratcheted up their violence, sure... it's desperation. They have to. The GoA (Government of Afghanistan) is extending their influence further and further into previously ungoverned areas. The Afghan National Army is no joke; they can fight, and when they do, the ACM usually come out mauled. The ANA doesn't exactly look just like Americans. They look like professional Afghans, and that doesn't look American.

Hopefully, they don't pick up our bad habits, too.

The ANP are ten times more likely to be killed in combat than their ANA counterparts. Hopefully that number will start to decrease. The ANP are the last piece of the puzzle. When the guy in the village with the automatic weapon is an ANP and life under the ANP is better than life under the Taliban, then we will really win. Then Afghanistan will really win.

I think that we're on the way to this end, if we are allowed to continue and if they will send enough mentors over here so that every district in every province has a mentor team.

We are not winning because we are master counterinsurgents. Our line units are apparently completely untrained in counterinsurgency. We've got some young soldiers who were sent here to train ANP on soldier skills who not only are untrained in counterinsurgency, but who don't want to hear it, either. We are doing a terrible job of evangelizing counterinsurgency doctrine, the only doctrine that will win against an insurgency.

We're not winning because we're so damned great; we are winning because there are enough Afghans who really want a better country and are willing to put their butts on the line to have it.

When you are at home and you speak to someone who has been here, and they tell you that they hate Afghans, know this; you are speaking to someone who doesn't get it. They are people who are too damned lazy to have tried to get past the differences and see the men inside. They are people who feel superior by virtue of what they have that was freely given to them, not because they are inherently better or because of some earned superiority. They will complain of Afghans not being able to read. Remind them that they can read not because they are so virtuous, but because they live in a society that will not permit them not to go to school. They will complain of Afghans being primitive, but they themselves did not build the water treatment plants, or the power stations that make them so advanced. That was all there when they were born into their pristine hospital beds.

They will complain of corruption, when most of them have never had to worry about feeding their family on a salary that is woefully short of what it takes to feed the kids. They will feel that their education makes them superior; or that they use silverware to eat with, or even because they are Christians (I once had a Captain explain to me why all 26 million Afghans will find their way to Hell because they are not Christians... I don't think he's alone.) None of these things are things that they have done for themselves. So we are superior by nature of our birth. Nobility, we are.

One soldier who is struggling with the concepts of counterinsurgency... Smokey came here to kill everything he sees (let's see how long that holds up when he gets shot at the first time)... explained to me how hard he worked to get his college degree in graphic design. I told him that he has no idea what hard work is until he's seen an Afghan work acres and acres with a hoe and a shovel.

We are arrogant, self-centered people, and our Army is a reflection of the nation. Yes, we are winning in Afghanistan. No, it's not really our victory completely. We would not, could not, win without the dedicated, uneducated, illiterate, Hell-bound savages whose bravery is often unbelievable.

Don't ever tell me that the Afghans need to put some skin in the game. I've put four of them in vinyl bags with their skin in pieces and seen the rest of them continue to do their jobs. They lost two more in the same way in nearly the same spot. Another was shot clean through the head, and his brethren kept going into that same area. That's skin the game, and in the earth, and in the grave.

Yes, sometimes there are acts of cowardice. I've seen more amazing feats of cowardice from an American officer who will go home claiming to be a hero. We are not superior by nature of our births, or the training that our Army can afford to give us. What makes a man superior is his actions, and I could point to many examples where we do not deserve that title.

We train our soldiers to be arrogant. Is there no way that our soldiers can be superbly trained and confident without having to look down on the rest of the world?

So, when you meet the guy who hates Afghans, know that he never got it. You may give him an opportunity to explain, perhaps, that he is tired of Afghans... they require a lot of effort to understand and sometimes to tolerate the things they do that will never make sense to us. Sometimes being tired of them will be stated as hate, but it is not the same. If he still insists that it is hatred, then welcome him home and pray that he is never again sent forth as an American counterinsurgent. We do not need him.

I'm going home soon, and I've still got stories to tell.

CONOP = Convoy Operation

ACM = Anti Coalition Militia (Not all ACM are Taliban, many are also HiG, or Hizbi Islami Gulbuddin; they are the militia of the HiG party, led by warlord Hekmatyar Gulbuddin. They claim to be a political party. There are other smaller ACM's also, like Jamyaat. The main ones in the areas where I've worked have been Taliban and HiG.
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