The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


November 30, 2006

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 11/30/06
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog url:

I’ve never taken the time to explain, in detail, what our actual tasking is while we are in Afghanistan. So in 1000 words or less, here is why we were sent to Afghanistan. My fellow Airmen and I stationed at Camp Phoenix and Camp Eggers are Embedded Training Teams, or ETTs, which means we are embedded with the Afghan National Army (ANA). Our job is to "mentor" our ANA counterparts, in an effort to rebuild the ANA and make it self-sufficient  Unfortunately, there is no textbook, no regulation, no course we can attend, on how exactly we are supposed to do this. As you may imagine, this makes our jobs challenging, exciting, and frustrating, all mixed together with a large serving of the unknown.

Even though "mentoring" is poorly defined, we do have a plan of attack. I work with fourteen other Airmen at the Central Movement Agency, the only transportation unit for the ANA. Our job is to make sure CMA can run convoys throughout the country and maintain their vehicles properly. We oversee the maintenance shops, and train the ANA on proper maintenance procedures and record keeping. We also oversee convoy operations, and train drivers until we can get the ANA to start their own training. Maj Apple and I work with the Commander and his staff, trying to teach everything from the importance of wearing the uniform properly to trusting NCOs with more responsibilities. The most basic principles of our military are strange new concepts here.

The challenges are many, and not quite what you might expect. First, we are Airmen lent to the US Army for a year, working with a foreign army. You can find many Air Force and Navy personnel taking on traditionally Army roles, as we help to relieve the Army of some of its taskings. Fighting two wars simultaneously has stretched the Army too much, and we are helping to relieve some of the pressure. But that means we need to learn how the Army does things, and then try to teach the ANA the "Army Way" to operate.

Secondly, we have to adapt to life in a nation torn apart by war. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world. Even the capital, Kabul, only has electricity a few hours a day. Military installations must have their own generators for electricity. Roads are in terrible shape, and as winter approaches, we swear we can see potholes getting bigger each day. There are no traffic laws, no driver's licenses (well, none that anyone really cares about), no lanes, and no traffic lights. We share the roads with pedestrians, bicycles, donkey carts, and herds of goats and sheep. The water isn't safe to drink, the air is polluted, and many people have tuberculosis. Poverty is everywhere.

The ANA is being rebuilt from the ground up, and many officers have been demoted from ranks they held in previous armies.This leads to the unusual sight of captains and majors wearing colonel rank, as they refuse to wear the lower rank. It's been a long battle getting everyone to wear their uniforms properly, to clean their buildings, to wash their hands. Nothing is easy here.

There are some major religious impacts here too. For instance, for a month at the beginning of fall, they celebrate Ramazan. During this time, Muslims may not eat or drink during the day. So during this month, the only meaningful work that gets done is done before noon. After that, the work day is pretty much over. Observant Muslims pray five times a day, and must perform a ritual washing beforehand. This means the lunch break is 90 minutes, to allow for both the meal and the prayer.

The importance of our interpreters cannot be overstated. They risk their lives even working with us, as the Taliban have placed a price on their heads. They keep their true occupations secret from friends, family, and neighbors. They have become our friends and partners in our task, and also educate us daily on the many facets of Afghan life. It would be impossible to be here without them.

The ride back and forth to work is always a little worrisome, as Kabul has had a fair share of suicide bombers lately. You might imagine that we drive around in tanks or armored cars. You’d be wrong. Still, it is a very interesting job, despite the risks. We are the fortunate few who get to go out and experience Afghan life every day. This immersion into a truly alien culture has been a great experience for me. It also looks like one that more and more Air Force personnel will get to have. This is a totally different Air Force than the one I joined 18 years ago. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I might end up in an Army position, embedded with the Afghan Army. In an Infinite Universe, anything is possible.


I appreciate your explanation. I found it quite interesting. I wish you lots of patience and good luck. Be well.

Hey! Captain! Darn good report! I dumped on your first couple of whimpy reports. Sorry about that! But, the stuff you are doing now is first class. No matter what happens, nobody can say you didn't go out there and give it your best. Do try to get some (homemade?) armor on those vehicles. Good luck! And the same to all of your Army/Navy/USAF team.

As I read the description of your task & day, I could feel myself tense up. There are no words to express my thanks for the job all of you are doing. The universe brings us many new adventures, not all of them good.

Uh, aren't you on R & R? What's up with this! Get some Rest and Relationship building time with the fam.

Loved reading this again. Thanks for posting it here.

Awesome! You should be a writer. As an avid reader I could almost be there with your description skills. I am praying for all of you over there. And thanks for all you do for us here.

Thank you Capt. for your service. I spent 2 yrs in CG and 6 in AF before getting out with the thought that the grass was greener. It wasn't, but I do understand your comment about a different AF. My wife and I are both AF brats. Now we sit around with our grey hair and grandkids and pray for you and your guys over there. Take care, come home safely and help us get some sanity back.

Thank-you for explaining the incredibly difficult role you are filling as USAF in an Army billet. Thank-you as well for meeting all the challenges of this demanding role in such a difficult and dangerous part of the world. You are appreciated much more than you know. God bless you.

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