Archive for the ‘Cautiously optimistic’ Category

The ruins of Darulaman Palace, the "abode of peace" *

A watering can salesman, near the palace **

Literally, the “abode of peace”, Darulaman Palace was ruined as rival Mujahideen factions fought for control of Kabul during the early 1990s.   Today, it stands as a deeply cynical symbol of Afghanistan’s future … a country ruined by insurgency and government corruption.  But Darulaman also stands for a wildly hopeful future … a vibrant country rebuilt by Afghan entrepreneurs with the help of NATO and others.

I’ve been away from Afghanistan for over a year now, and I’ve found the time and distance have made it harder and harder to maintain perspective of the country and its people …

Clearly, it’s time to wrap up this blog.

Thanks to all who’ve taken the time to read my favorite posts:

And also my most popular posts:

Bottom line:  Fare well, Afghanistan.  And farewell …

* Photo by ET1 Peterson, USN
** Photo by Shah Marai, AFP/Getty Images


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An Afghan recruit studies literacy course material *

Afghan soldiers with literacy instruction materials **

In Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan Security Forces face ruthless and determined insurgents.

But they also face an almost unbelievable lack of literacy

As Col William Gerhard of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) points out, soldiers must be able to shoot, move, and communicate.  But in Afghanistan, these necessities are made even more difficult because only 14 percent of new recruits can read or write.  In fact, many cannot identify the letters in their name nor the serial number of their weapon…

But NTM-A is working to change that.  Their Afghan National Security Forces literacy program enables more effective training, serves as an important recruiting tool, and helps install the rule of law while reducing the impact of corruption.

Eventually, NTM-A hopes to raise the Afghan National Army and Police forces to full functional literacy, at the third-grade level.  But there’s a long, long way to go…

Bottom line:  Here are some Dari Flashcards we used in Afghanistan.  Imagine not being able to read either side of the card…

* Photo by TSgt Adrienne Brammer, USAF, from flickr
** Photo by SSgt Rachel Martinez, USAF, from flickr

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Spring in Kabul: Cherry blossoms and prayer rugs

Flower viewing in Kabul...with concertina wire

The cherry blossoms of Kabul are truly special.

They’re nothing like the flashy blooms in Washington DC.  Instead, they’re reminiscent of the bittersweet blooms of feudal “hanami” in mainland Japan.  Then, as now, the blossoms reminded viewers of life itself … beautiful but fleeting.

Spring in Afghanistan has a similar poignancy.  As Nate Rawlins points out, spring marks the start of Afghanistan’s traditional  fighting season, as insurgents return from their sanctuaries in Pakistan, bringing death and anguish.  But spring also marks the end of the cold, barren landscape of winter, as warmth returns to the land, bringing–in many places–a lush growth.

Bottom line:   Many days, Afghanistan is a place of grinding despair.  But it is also a place of tremendous beauty, especially in the spring.  Just look up.

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Zooming from TV Hill

The Gardens of Babur

Mount Asma-i, known by Afghans and Coalition members alike as TV Hill, is a high mountain in the middle of Kabul.  On a clear day, the view from TV Hill reaches across not just miles, but centuries…

Raju Gopalakrishnan writes about one of the views: The Bagh-e Babur, or Gardens of Babur.

The empire of Babur, the 16th century founder of the Mughal dynasty, stretched from Samarkand to central India, but he died pining for Kabul and insisting on being buried in the place he called paradise on earth.

His open-air tomb on a hillside in what is now the capital of Afghanistan is set in an oasis of greenery. With the snow-fringed Hindu Kush ranges providing a majestic backdrop, the tomb is set amidst a garden of walnut, mulberry, apple and pomegranate trees as well as a small marble mosque, fountains and water channels.

But the views below are far from paradise. These days the tomb overlooks a war-ravaged city of about four million people, dusty and choked with garbage.

Bottom line:  The inscription on Babur’s tomb reads,

If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!

Frankly, it’s been a LONG time since anyone described Kabul as paradise.  And that won’t change soon.  But maybe someday…

Want more info?  Try the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage or the American International School of Kabul.

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High five

High fives in Kunar*

Soap bubbles

Bubbles in Kabul**

One of my most popular posts is one from a while back on Dari Phrases You Need to Know.   In case it’s not obvious, this is the sequel:  Ten phrases that can take you beyond the “minimum essential” and into the “nice to know”…

  1. Mushkelnest – No problem.
  2. Qabelishnest – You’re welcome.
  3. Zhwan! – Energy/life.  Soldiers will often say this after being recognized for exceptional performance.  I asked a terp what it meant the other day, and he struggled a little, as it doesn’t really have an exact English translation.  A different terp though, who can speak Dari, English, and Army explained, “It means ‘Hoo-ah!'”
  4. Drust – OK.
  5. Ba’le – Yes.  And its counterpart…
    Ne – No.
  6. Khub’ast – Cool (lit., “good is”).  You can make it a little stronger too, as…
    Besyar khub! – Very good!
  7. Booga booga booga – Say it, say it, say it.  Kind of an all-purpose phrase, it’s sometimes used like, “Blah blah blah…” but more often as the Dari equivalent of, “You go, girl!”
  8. Chitur hasti? How are you?  This is the informal version, used between friends (the formal version is in my previous post).
    Khub hastam – I’m good.
    Chuma chitur hasti? And you?
  9. Zenda bashi – Take care (lit., “health always”).
  10. Yak team wahed – One team together.  I love this phrase because it speaks volumes about the challenge of serving here in Afghanistan.  We have to build enduring National Security Forces in a country that, until we got here, didn’t even have a word for Team (Americans are known for being fiercely independent, but geesh, we’ve got nothing on the Afghans…).  After 50,000 years of history though, the Afghans finally have a word for Team:  team.  Almost without exception, Afghans are quick to pick up the good ideas the Coalition has to offer.  And teamwork is certainly one of our better ones!

Bottom line:  Language matters.  Give some Dari a try!

* Photo by SSG Gary A. Witte, US Army, from Soldiers Media Center on flikr.
** Photo by Stephon M. Sterns.

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IT2 Gonzalez

IT2 Gonzalez, gathering gear for a support mission*

IT1 Beiser

IT1 Beiser and children during a volunteer mission**

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization.  But three have really stood out recently:

IT2 Gonzalez is a communications technician working in my Current Operations section.  He is directly responsible for providing mobile comm support for LTG Caldwell, the Commander of NTM-A and CSTC-A.

Because of his professionalism and expertise, IT2 Gonzalez was my #1 select to provide communications support to LTG Caldwell during his recent visits to forward operating bases in Afghanistan.  He flew ahead of the General and coordinated classified and unclassified telephone and network services with each host site.  He was recognized by the Command Sergeant Major for his ability to anticipate LTG Caldwell’s every communications need.

IT1 Beiser is my Afghan National Army (ANA) Tactical Communications Fielding NCO. In this job, he helps the ANA field the correct number and type of radios to the correct units, ensuring ANA Commanders have the means to effectively command their units in combat.  IT1 Beiser also advises an Afghan Colonel, providing valuable input into ANA radio equipment, supply, and storage plans.

IT1 Beiser assists the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU) too, advising generator mechanics, radio maintainers and operators, and even First Sergeants within the unit.  While working with the CSU, he’s driven vehicles and been entrusted with Vehicle Commander and Convoy Commander duties as well.

Finally, Capt Grocki is my Afghan National Police (ANP) Budget and Program Support Planner here at Camp Eggers.  As my ANP Contracting Officer Representative, he manages $221M in sales of US communications equipment and services, and ensures 13 multi-million dollar ANP comm support contracts remain in scope and on schedule.

Capt Grocki also worked closely with the Kabul Regional Contracting Center, shepherding four contracts through technical evaluation and contract award.  He developed Quality Assurance plans for each contract and ensured Technical Oversight Representatives were assigned to conduct regular inspections of contractor performance.

Bottom line: IT2 Gonzalez, IT1 Beiser, and Capt Grocki are great Americans, making great things happen in Afghanistan.  I’m honored to serve with them here.

* Photo by LCDR Tony Saxon, USN.
** Photo by Lt Col Fred Kelsey, USAF.

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Polish soldiers raise the NATO flag at Camp Eggers*


LTG Caldwell receives the Command guidon**

Yesterday marked 100 days since the formal activation of NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.

The first 100 days have been pretty amazing…from Washington DC to London to Brussels to a dusty town in Helmand Province, everyone is working together to enable accountable Afghan-led security.  And Afghan and Coalition communicators are working together to connect the all the organizations involved.

Here are just a few highlights. from a comm perspective:

  • We expanded the enduring comm infrastructure of the ANP, installing radio systems at ten ANP district headquarters, dozens of radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, and over 1000 vehicle radios supporting the ANP.
  • Working entirely on their own, Ministry of the Interior communicators installed new antennas and towers, improving the ANP’s long-range communication capability.
  • The ANA deployable comm unit accomplished their first-ever operational deployments…supporting Afghan Special Operations Forces during an insurgent attack in Kabul and operations in Helmand
  • The ANA senior communicator took an extremely professional response to radio shortage, cross-leveling radios between Corps, converting radios when necessary, and purchasing gap-filler radios on their own.
  • The ANA graduated their first five radio repair instructors ever…these five soldiers went on to lead the first-ever radio maintenance course taught by ANA instructors!
  • We worked with Microsoft to produce full-Dari versions of Office and SharePoint software…though Afghans can type using a Dari font, the menus and help screens of our current software all in English.
  • We installed the first military BlackBerry server in Afghanistan, built a deployable comm capability for the NTM-A commander, and doubled the size of our Coalition classified network.
  • We implemented new network permissions, dramatically increasing transparency about NTM-A and the Afghan National Security Forces.

Bottom line:  It’s been a wild ride already, and there’s LOTS more to come!

* Photo by MCC F. Julian Carroll, USN, from Defense Imagery.

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

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