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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Luncheon at the Communication Support Unit headquarters

SSgt Jara, USAF, eats lunch with Afghan security guards in Panjshir*

Ramadan — known in Afghanistan as Ramazan — was a bummer, mostly because I’d really grown to love Afghan food.

When meeting with Afghans, we ALWAYS had chai, and usually also had a tray with tidbits like yellow raisins, dried yellow peas, almonds, pistachios, and rock candy crystals.  Often we  shared more exotic tidbits too…strange commercial candies, simyan (kind of like thin, curry-flavored chow mein noodles), laddu (honeyed balls of chick-pea flour), or almond meringue chunks.  And sometimes, we enjoyed a full-blown luncheon…shishkabobs and fresh naan, exotic soups, fruits, and vegetables, and sometimes even khabili, a traditional Afghan rice dish.

Except during Ramazan.  Most Afghans fast and refrain from drinking during daylight hours, and Coalition members go out of our way to not eat or drink around Afghans.  Which means neither chai nor fun Afghan food.

Most interesting though was talking to Afghans about the Coalition perspective on fasting.  My Afghan friends found it hilarious that we referred to ‘not eating food’ as ‘fasting’…to drink while fasting was almost inconceivable.

Bottom line:  I was embarrassed to forget that for most Afghans, not eating food during the day isn’t part of Ramazan.  It’s just a normal day…

* Photo by SGT Teddy Wade, US Army

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Mourning and night

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

Chaplain

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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Coalition forces

Coalition members commemorate all those who've served*

Silence

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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Accordion

Accordion player in the ANA band, before the ceremony

ANA Band

ANA band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" *

National holidays aren’t really that big a deal at Camp Eggers.  First, every day is a work day…there’s just an infinite number of things here that desperately need doing.  Second, we’ve got service members from 47 countries involved in NTM-A (43 in the International Security Assistance Force, plus Mongolia, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, and of course, Afghanistan)…if we tried to celebrate all the national holidays we’d do nothing but hold ceremonies!  That said though, we did set aside a few minutes back on the 4th of July for a short cake-cutting ceremony.  The best part, by far, was the Afghan National Army band, which played the Afghan national anthem** and then ours.  The band played well…not great, but plenty good enough for a country at war.  And it wasn’t really about the tunes anyways, it was about an Afghan band, that we built, playing our national anthem, on our Independence Day, in Kabul.  As my kids would say: Epic!

The similarities and differences between the Afghan and US national anthems are interesting.  Both countries have a long, proud military heritage (though of course Afghanistan’s goes back tens of thousands of years, and the US’ a mere 234).  And both anthems were born in battle–Afghanistan’s during the current insurgency and the US’ during the War of 1812.  But the Milli Surood is much less militant than The Star Spangled Banner.  Except for one snippet (“…the land of sword, each of its sons is brave…”), it paints a picture of Afghanistan as “a land of peace” and “the country of every tribe”.  It’s not there yet, of course, but Afghanistan’s choice of national anthem gives me hope that it’s headed in the right direction…  

Bottom lines:  

This land will shine forever, like the sun in the blue sky
In the chest of Asia, it will remain as the heart forever 

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

* CSTC-A photo 

** Here’s a recording of the piece (with lyrics and without), and also some sheet music, all compliments of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington D.C.

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My Christmas tree, with origami ornaments

Charlie Company's Ops Center, during an exercise

The Communications Support Unit is a bunch of Afghan soldiers who provide deployable comm support to the Afghan National Army (ANA).   They’re organized, trained, and equipped to deploy up to three separate locations and quickly set up a fully functional command center.  Anytime, anywhere.

It’s a large unit (400+ people), and we support them with a small team of advisers (8 people, plus a few contractors and interpreters).  The other day, I was able to sit down with the Comm Support Unit Commanding General, some Coalition special operators, and part of my team, to sort through comm support to an upcoming operation.  Very cool.

Bottom line:  I got exactly what I wanted for Christmas…a great team of communicators (Coalition and Afghans), working together to crush the Taliban.  Ho ho ho!

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The formation swaps their national caps and berets for...

...the dark blue berets of the European Gendarmerie Force.

The big deal today was a ceremony to stand up the European Gendarmerie Force as an operational mission under NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.  This is SERIOUSLY good stuff.  The bulk of our Police training and equipping work has been on building your basic anti-criminal type cops.  Which made great sense a few years ago, when the insurgency had no teeth.  And it’ll be great in a few years.  But it’s almost exactly the wrong kind of force for the fight we’re in now (NightWatch has a good, though absolutely scathing, article on this issue here).  

For the fight Afghanistan’s in now, it needs a larger para-military capability.  The idea is a military force comes in and clears an area, then a para-military force comes in to hold the line and establish order, then a police force comes in to maintain order.  The Afghan National Army plus Coalition forces do a great job on the ‘clear’ part.  And the Afghan National Police (once they’ve been reformed) do a good job on the ‘maintain order’ part.  Problem is we just don’t have the ‘hold the line and establish order’ piece.  And the US doesn’t really have anything like that, so we’re probably not the best trainers for that kind of thing (we have SWAT units of course, but that’s small-scale stuff…’para-military force’ is BIG…the kind of capability and support structure you need to establish order in places like Bosnia…or Afghanistan).

So anyways, about a year ago, the Coalition and the Afghans started working this hard.  And today *part* of the solution came to fruition, with Gendarmerie from a number of European nations who are REALLY good at this sort of thing joining the team here in direct contribution to the development of the Afghan National Police.

Bottom line:  The European Gendarmerie Force is going to bring a TON of capability to the fight.

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