From Afghanistan

Settling In

I finally arrive at my final destination and meet my team, the Enforcers. Just as we sit down in a conference room for the full meet and greet we hear gun shots. Since we are isolated (we’re at least 45 minutes from any U.S. forces) and know the Taliban to be in the area, we immediately go into fight mode. The whole team is experienced - there is no one under the rank of Staff Sergeant and no one has fewer than 10 years in the military. Immediately the team separates into three vehicles with interpreters, weapons locked and loaded for any possibility. I go to the wall with another Captain to assist with sniper fire at long range. We also become the eyes on the surrounding area for the roaming vehicles whose visibility is limited. We grab an interpreter on the off chance we need to use a microphone to tell the surrounding workers and villagers what we want them to do in case of emergency. Things fit like an old glove, like we have done this type of thing a million of times instead of just getting our boots on the ground. After the sweep of the area, it turns out the Afghan National Police are firing rounds at some kids who were trying to steal from a building, either for wood or metal. We have to talk to the chief of police to let him know that he has to report gun fire and to remind him that if he kills the locals, they will not give us advance warning on the enemy. But most importantly, we need to remind him that bullets don’t stop at the intended target but travel much further and innocent people behind the children could have been hit. There is no such thing as friendly fire; the bullets don’t know who the good and bad guys are. Besides, is killing someone who has nothing worth it?

Everything done out here with the locals is done with a dual purpose. The first purpose is that of ensuring the Afghans have an investment in their community and country. The second purpose is in giving them an investment in the U.S. so we can mentor them. This can be done by building them a building or digging a well or something as simple as creating a local friendship. I don’t care which I do as long as I know I can do some good and return in a year alive. It is an added bonus if they feel compelled to warn us in advance of any possible attacks or placed bombs.

The team has no misunderstanding about the local population; they are very aware that there are 30 Taliban fighters in our back yard. These local men had apparently gone to get a job in the local police or army and they were denied. Well, the Taliban recruited them and now pays them. But we are not here to seek and destroy; we are here to help the Afghan National Police and Army stand up and support themselves. Think of it this way, I could take the team out and fight the conventional war all day and kill numerous bad guys, but at the end of the day we are going to leave and if the people can’t protect themselves then our efforts are for nothing. You have to remember the history of this country – they survived Alexander the Great and more recently, the Russians. Great Britain at their peak of power couldn’t capture this country. So if you think America could come in and capture the country, well, we could, but I guarantee we wouldn’t be able to hold onto it.

At the end of my first day with the team in my new home, I feel as if someone has put a fire hose up to my mouth and opened a fire hydrant of knowledge; it is going to take me a few days to digest all the information. But like a trained soldier I ask numerous questions and most importantly keep my mouth shut and listen. Right before I am about to turn in for the night and go to sleep, the Major and Master Sergeant take me to the side and acknowledge that they have noticed the questions I was asking were the right ones to ask. They want to let me know before I go to sleep to put my weapons, body armor and night vision goggles at arm’s length. I guess they have noticed the “deer caught in headlights” look on my face because the Major says I shouldn’t worry because there is no point. We are so far out by ourselves that it is not a question of if the Taliban could take the compound; it’s a question of whether they want to. So I go to bed and let my mind race over everything that has transpired today. I double check my gear and lay down in the dark listening to every little noise wondering what it is. This is so different from home where I can hear a noise and not only tell you what it is but where it came from. So as I let my mind wonder, I think to myself that tonight is a full moon and if I was going to attack I would do it when there was a change in manpower. First I would test the waters by seeing how they would respond to gunshot as in earlier in the day. Anxious of all my worries, I lay my body armor over me like a blanket and hold my weapon to my chest. Sweet dreams are not in my vocabulary tonight.

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