Archive for February, 2010

Mourning and night

Mourning and night...Memorial Day at Camp Eggers*


A Jewish chaplain speaks about 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine**

Memorial Day will never be the same for me again.

On 20 May 2009, 1Lt Roslyn Schulte and Mr Shawn Pine were killed in an IED strike, while on convoy from Camp Eggers to Bagram Air Field.

1Lt Schulte happened to be Jewish, and by an amazing coincidence – some would say Providence – the one Jewish chaplain in all of CENTCOM arrived at Bagram Air Field the morning of the 20th as part of a tour throughout the region.  So he was there to participate in the ramp ceremony, where 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine were slowly and formally loaded onto an aircraft for their final trip home.

And he was at Camp Eggers five days later, on Memorial Day.  1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine worked with the Afghan National Army as advisers, so scores of Afghan officers attended the ceremony.  Like me, they heard a Jewish chaplain’s prayer in Hebrew, followed by a Muslim general’s eulogy in Dari.

Bottom line:  At Camp Eggers last Memorial Day, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all wept together.

* Photo by Stephon M. Sterns.

** CSTC-A photo.

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ANP Exercise

A training exercise at the Afghan National Police Academy

ANA graduates

New graduates at the Kabul Military Training Center*

For those of us who serve in NATO Training Mission and Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, training and transition are our middle names.

Training is what we do.   We train new soldiers and police, generating capable security forces.  We train staff members within the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior, developing ministerial systems.  And we train communicators, medics, logisticians and other specialists, developing the enduring institutions and skills required to sustain the ANA and ANP.

Transition is why we do it.  We provide a ladder, and the Afghans climb it: On the ground floor, we have to do things for Afghans.  Part way up, they’re doing things with us.  And towards the top, they can do things by themselves.  At the top, we transition to Afghan-led security…self-reliant and professionally-led forces with accountable and effective Afghan Ministries.

Bottom line:  Our new mission statement sums it all up nicely:

NTM-A and CSTC-A, in coordination with key stakeholders, generates and sustains the Afghan National Security forces, develops leaders and establishes enduring institutional capacity in order to enable accountable Afghan-led security.

* Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery.

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On patrol, shohna ba shohna...*

Marine and Boy

On patrol, shoulder to shoulder...**

There’s an old saw that if you know three languages, you’re trilingual, if you know two, you’re bilingual, and if you know one, you’re American.  Most Afghans know a BUNCH…everyone knows Dari and  Pashto, and many also know Tajik, Uzbek, Russian, and English. 

As a Coalition advisor in Kabul, I’ve found even a little Dari goes a LONG way.  Here’s my take on the absolute least you need to know… 

  1. Kumak! Help!  Because you just never know when you might need it…
  2. Salaam aalaikum – Peace be upon you, the standard greeting in most Islamic countries.
    Wa’alaikum salaam – And peace be upon you, the standard response.
  3. Soub baKhayr – Good morning.
  4. Lutfan – Please.
  5. Tashakur – Thank you.
  6. Chitur hasten? How are you?  There’s a casual version, but this is the formal one, best for the first time you meet someone and to show respect for older or senior-ranking Afghans.  They’ll let you know when they’re comfortable shifting to more informal language…
    Man Khub hastam – I’m good.
    Chuma chitur hasten? And you?
  7. Me baKhshi – Excuse me (to an individual).
  8. Tabrik basha! Congratulations!  The perfect phrase for a graduation ceremony
  9. Khoda hafiz – May God protect you, my favorite way to say “farewell”.
  10. Shohna ba Shohna – Shoulder to Shoulder…this is the NTM-A motto and it really speaks to our relationship with the Afghan National Security Forces.  There’s a wide range of ANA and ANP capabilities: Some have to lean on us like a person with an injured leg; some can walk with us, side by side; and some are sprinting alongside us.  But in all cases, we’re at close ranks, shoulder to shoulder…moving forward against the insurgency and towards Afghanistan’s future.

Bottom line:  Learning some Dari won’t magically fix everything that’s messed up in Afghanistan.  But it will help. 

* Photo by Cpl Artur Shvartsberg, USMC, from Defense Imagery.
** Photo by LCpl Jeremy Harris, USMC, from Defense Imagery

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Buillet holes

Want bullet holes? Just try to run an ANP checkpoint...


Mirror and flashlight, to search for IEDs underneath vehicles*

There’s no doubt:  At checkpoints, on patrol, and at duty stations throughout Afghanistan, the Afghan National Police (ANP) are in the fight.

My directorate works with the Afghan Ministry of the Interior to build the communications capability the ANP needs to fight crime, fight terrorism, fight drugs, and fight corruption.     This includes installing radio and computer systems across the MoI, supporing all branches of the ANP:

The Afghan Uniform Police is the nation’s law enforcement agency.  It’s a national force…something like a combination of the FBI and US Marshal Service, our state highway patrols and rangers, county and parish sheriff departments, and our municipal police.  Many are well-led and well-trained.  And others are like the fictional Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane with a bunch of thugs.

The Afghan Border Police secure the borders and airports and have a major role in collecting tax revenue, much like the US Customs and Border Protection agency.  Afghanistan has been a hub of International commerce since the days of the Silk Road, so there are tremendous opportunities here to increase the funds available to the government of Afghanistan.  But of course there are also tremendous opportunities for corruption.

The ANP’s third main branch is the the Afghan Gendarmerie Force (AGF), sometimes known as the Afghan National Civil Order Police.  An elite paramilitary force, the AGF deploys throughout Afghanistan to cover down on troubled police units and help out in troubled regions.  Which means they deploy a LOT.  Which means they have a REALLY hard time retaining qualified people.  To help improve retention, the Ministry of the Interior is (finally) implementing a recovery – train-up – deployment  schedule, similar to that used by the Coalition and Afghan military services.

Bottom line:  The Afghan National Police are the first line of defense for Afghans against crime, terrorism, drugs, and corruption.   It’s not the best defense, but it is getting better every day.

* Photo by Pietro Calogero, from his blog.

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Commando patch

Comm Support Unit adviser, proudly wearing the ANA Commando patch*

ANP Antenna

ANP radio antenna, supporting a District Headquarters in Wardak Province**

I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization; here are three that really stood out recently:

Senior Airman Taylor is a technician working in my Operations  section, connecting NTM-A and CSTC-A.  He is responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of the classified Coalition network (called Afghanistan Mission Network, or AMN) at Camp Eggers – 555 users, 360 computers, 25 printers, and 50 computer-based phones…growing every day.

Recently, SrA Taylor provided above-and-beyond comm support to the Joint Planning Group charged to relook the Command’s mission and way-ahead.  This has been an incredibly high-visibility effort, involving multiple meetings with LTG Caldwell, the NTM-A Commander and CSTC-A Commanding General.  SrA Taylor engineered and implemented AMN connectivity for the group despite starting with ZERO comm infrastructure in their designated meeting space.  He connected over twenty senior officers with secure comms and enabled in-depth analysis across fourteen different staff sections, allowing the group to chart the way forward for the Command.

Electronics Technician First Class Peterson works in my Afghan National Army Communications section, supporting ANA command and control.  He serves as the satellite communications trainer/adviser for the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU).  As an adviser, ET1 Peterson helped the CSU with their first operational deployment, ever.  I’ve written about this deployment before, but the short story is until ET1 Peterson and the CSU arrived, the Commando Brigade Headquarters had only radio communications.  Only two days into the deployment, Commando leaders had video, voice, and data comms with the National Military Command Center,  allowing them to effectively respond to the 18 January insurgent attacks in Kabul.  And today, the Commandos are participating in major combat operations in and around Marjah, in central Helmand.

Additionally, ET1 Peterson provides direct support for the American Forces Network (AFN) television broadcast  system on Camp Eggers.  He helped replace cable and perform maintenance on the Camp Eggers AFN system.  In the process, he isolated and fixed an intermittent problem with AFN reception affecting our headquarters building.  These trouble prevention and troubleshooting skills earned the personal recognition of LTG Caldwell.

Last but certainly not least, Lieutenant Commander Stewart serves as the Radio Fielding Branch Chief in my Afghan National Police Comms section.  He’s driving a $10 million plan to install over 400 VHF radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, enhancing the tactical command and control capabilities of the ANP.  He developed a strategy to use existing commercial cell phone towers, saving significant time and money compared to building towers from scratch.  LCDR Stewart is also finishing up a UHF radio system installation here in Kabul.  This is a trunked system which allows almost unlimited talk groups…which means local police, fire fighters, medical providers and other first responders in the capital can use their radios simultaneously, without stepping on each other’s voices, even during a major crisis.  He has already started operational testing; I expect the the system will soon be functioning as designed for more than 3,700 users.

Finally, LCDR Stewart has been directly responsible for working with Afghan Ministry of the Interior officers to field more than 300 vital pieces of radio equipment for Afghan Gendarmerie Force units participating in Operation Moshtarak near Marjah.  Afghan and Coalition forces are currently clearing the area of insurgents; LCDR Stewart’s radios will help Afghan police forces hold the line against an insurgent return, providing the Afghan government time and space to build capability within the area.

Bottom line:  I offer SrA Taylor, ET1 Peterson, and LCDR Stewart as shining examples of the best qualities of this Command – agile and adaptive, culturally respectful, and innovative.  It is my pleasure and my honor to serve with them here.

* Photo by ET1 David Peterson.

** Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski.

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Print Plant

The MoD Print Plant, without mines


Civilian and military Print Plant workers*

Your slightly-cryptic but cool Afghan phrase of the day:  The hand is a flower.

In America, wild flowers exist…fields of bluebonnets, columbine, and bear grass bloom without human help.  And fields of dandelions bloom despite human help!

In Afghanistan, not so much.  There’s PLENTY of dirt here, but without nurturing Afghan hands, few – if any – seeds or bulbs would ever flower.  Thus, “[due to] the hand, a flower exists,” usually translated as…

The hand is a flower

I learned this phrase while visiting the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Print Plant.  The Print Plant is a real gem.  There, soldiers and Army civilians work together to print everything an Army needs…stuff like certificates, forms, posters, maps, training materials, and manuals.

The Print Plant is located in an ornate building, originally built in the 1930s.  When the ANA first moved in though, just over 5 years ago, the facility grounds were still littered with Soviet air-dropped landmines…I guess clearing the roof was more than a little sporty.  But Afghan hands cleared the building and then, with Coalition hands helping out, trained and equipped the men and women of the Print Plant.  Today, the MoD operates and maintains the Print Plant machinery with only a little help from a supporting contractor.  And they do all the graphic design work themselves.

Unfortunately, this level of autonomy is still rare within the Afghan National Security Forces.  But the MoD Print Plant is existence proof that transition of responsibility to Afghan hands can work REALLY well.

Bottom line:  The best things don’t just spontaneously happen.  But Afghan and Coalition hands can make flowers grow in even the most unlikely places.

* Photo by LtCol Dean Vrable, USMC

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Coalition forces

Coalition members commemorate all those who've served*


Two minutes of silence, in honor of those who've fallen*

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t do many ceremonies here at Camp Eggers.  But Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day) last November was an exception.

It’s a very powerful thing to pause, even for only a brief moment, and honor those who have served before us.  And it was even more powerful to do so, here in Afghanistan, with other members of the Coalition:  Albanian, American, Australian, British, Dutch, French, Polish, South Korean, Spanish, and Turkish forces alike.

Bottom line:  There’s a poem, famous within the Commonwealth, that speaks to  the need to keep the faith with our veterans:

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

Thanks to all who help hold that torch.

* Photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from DefenseImagery

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