From Afghanistan

Dreams of Warm Showers

After Googling how much water the average American uses in a day; I’m astounded by the answer: 80-100 gallons a day. This blows my mind as the average Afghan consumes and uses less than a half gallon a day on average. Why is this important? I have not showered in more than two weeks and it is the only thing that I can think of. Sure, we have bottled water but they are all freezing cold. I have two words for you: “baby wipes.” The genius who thought up this invention is right at the top of my list of people I need to thank. We all take for granted the simple things in life until they are lost. My dreams are plagued with images of standing under a warm shower until the water cools down and I have to turn down the cold water faucet handle a little at a time until it is completely shut off and I have fully drained the hot water heater. Ask any soldier out in the field and they are enduring the same misery as I am, wishing spring would come to defrost the water pipes for those who are lucky enough to have water pipes.

In the mist of my own private pity party, I forget that everyone is in the same boat. I am quickly taken back to reality when I hear a large boom. I race outside to find out that the village directly to the west of my compound has gotten in a feud with the village across the river. The men started fighting with pitch forks then someone threw a grenade. Just think about that for a minute. We rush up to our Observation Point and are able to see the scene from a bird’s eye view. The local Afghan National Police are called to go calm the villagers and we stay back to give them space. If we rush in and solve the problem then we defeat our very purpose. Eventually the police are going to have to take control. Responding to this situation, they do their job admirably. The villagers are content and peace is restored.

The next morning while 50 miles away, we receive a call to return back to the compound since the villagers have started fighting again. So we do the only thing we can do - drop the project we were doing and speed back to the compound. By the time we roll in, the stay-behind team notifies us that the police arrived without us calling them and got both parties to return to their villages without bloodshed. You might think that this means the problem was never corrected, but to us, it was a success. First, the villages will always fight, but our job is to get the police to react to the situation without us holding their hands. Second, no one was killed, which for these people is a huge step, because pride and saving face often lead to bloodshed. Finally, the police validated their authority and legitimized the government and its power over the communities; this has proven to be perhaps the most challenging step to accomplish. The fact that the police took initiative and did all of this without us calling them to do so is icing on the proverbial cake.

Days have been slow due to the weather lately, mostly fixing vehicles or weapon maintenance. But sometimes we get a quick call that requires our attention. For instance, this morning we receive a message that the terrorist group, Hezbollah, and the Taliban have joined forces in our area of responsibility. The Chief of Police has requested that we go on a presence patrol in the village where the terrorist groups are supposed to be hiding.

Unfortunately these reports can be taken with a grain of salt. In the past 20-30 years the people have gone from an unstable government to a war back to an unstable government and each position of power that was ever held had alternative motives or hidden agendas. Either you were hired because you were related to someone or you had something the people needed. So whenever a report is issued by the Afghans we do what we like to call Afghan Math. If a report says 100 Taliban, it probably means 6-8 men. If they say Taliban, it probably means someone they want out of the picture because they threaten that person’s job position. I say unfortunately because we are here to support the government and if we can’t trust the Afghan National Police then why should we expect the people to? So we will mentor them and assist them; that way everyone stays honest and 99 percent of the time we are there to give advice and no action is required.

These kinds of missions are really dual-purposed. On the one hand the Afghan National Police need to be seen so they can continue to present a commanding presence to rural villages and thus demonstrate that the terrorists are not in control and legitimize the current government. On the other hand, they want United States forces to back them up if they are attacked. In other words we are tagging along for a gun battle since we have the big guns.

What many Americans don’t realize about Hezbollah is they have no problem strapping C4 explosives to a child and letting him run up to the vehicles with the other children before detonating the bomb. Knowing that the children automatically run up to our vehicles because they think we always hand out candy can be dangerous in itself. Oftentimes the children wait close to the vehicle until we call them over, but in some instances they run out into the street, going directly in our path. That is why it has become standard operating procedure for us to communicate with each other to notify the driver of all people and animals that might come in contact with the vehicle while riding the roads of this country. We ensure that no one comes near the vehicles until we are about to leave and stay a safe distance from the vehicles so that when we leave, the children are not in our exit path.

Fortunately, this trip really did end up being just a presence patrol and no gunfire was heard. But we noticed little subtleties in this particular village; we didn’t see any females either old or young. No one waved when we passed them as they generally do and the villagers didn’t come out for a long period of time once we stopped. This led all of us to believe that there are terrorists in the village and the villagers are too scared. But more important, the terrorists are not strong enough to attack; so it might be two to four man groups with little fire power. To us it doesn’t matter - since we stayed a while, it showed the villagers that the terrorists are not in charge because they did nothing to the legitimate government that came. Hopefully, this will change some of the peoples’ minds about who is running the country. It does cross our minds that since we did not search the village, the danger may not be danger but simply cautious villagers who have not seen many outsiders.

We conduct an After Action Review following every mission so we can always strive to improve. After this particular mission, my chain of command reminds us that we are not here to fight, we are here to mentor. No one wants to fight, which is good because this country has seen enough fighting to last a lifetime. We are here to provide support and assistance in a peaceful manner. This way when we leave the country, those who stay behind have an easier time with their jobs. Even if that job is the police trying to do their job of settling arguments between villages. Who knows - hopefully the biggest arguments will be over who used up all the hot water.

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