HOPE AND DESPAIR |
January 24, 2007
For those who have been reading my posts, excuse me while I do a quick review for new readers. I work at the Central Movement Agency (CMA), the only transportation unit of the Afghan National Army (ANA). More simply, we are a trucking unit. In addition to running convoys all over the country, we have taken on the additional mission of picking up cargo flow into KAIA, the Kabul International Airport.
Until recently, this cargo was handled by civilians, and having us take it over is a big deal, as CMA grows and takes on more missions. With this growth comes more responsibility, and a sense of pride in the troops, both ANA and American. When we got here, everyone was excited that CMA had moved four artillery pieces to the south. Now they run convoys all the time, and they make me proud.
But life here is a continual series of ups and downs. We are still fighting against an "every man for himself" mindset, as well as trying to figure out the best ways to motivate the Afghans. Sometimes we'll have a problem that makes us feel like we are hitting ourselves in the head, slowly and repeatedly, with a very heavy, hob-nailed baseball bat. For instance, a couple of months ago we opened a new recreation room for the soldiers at CMA, which included a ping-pong table, dart board, two chess sets, a TV with new rabbit-ear antennas, and some games. This was bought and paid for by our small group of American NCOs, and they also did all the labor.
One day we heard that everything had been trashed in there, so we went to check it out. Sure enough, virtually everything was destroyed. The ping-pong table was in pieces, the darts were all broken, one chess set was missing, and the other's granite board was broken. The antenna on the TV was broken. There were soccer ball marks all over the walls.
After this, it was hard to think positive thoughts. We had a chat with the Commander and Sergeant Major about how badly this reflects on the unit. The Commander is constantly telling us that the soldiers come from villages, and it will take a long time for them to develop discipline. That may be, but we are at war, and they need to whip these guys into shape a little quicker. To his credit, the Commander had the place cleaned up immediately, posted a guard in there, and said he would replace all the broken items himself.
But when something bad happens, it isn't long until something good happens, giving us hope again. While we were loading cargo at the airport one day, a fellow Captain came out to watch. He was incredibly impressed by how quickly and eagerly our CMA troops were getting the cargo strapped down and their truck ready to roll. And also envious that we get to work with the Afghans daily. Even though he is assigned to work with the National Police, he rarely ever sees an Afghan. I have to agree that despite the risk of traveling each day, I have a much better job, and would not trade with him.
You may have read or seen on the news that Camp Phoenix in Kabul (my home) was attacked recently -- a suicide bomber rammed his car into our front gate. But before he could detonate the explosives packed into the vehicle, an Afghan guard and an interpreter pulled him out and subdued him. The guard was a man known affectionately around here as Rambo. He wears an Army uniform, carries a red baton (which he will not hesitate to use) and even has a "Rambo" name tag. Someone had a special rank made up for him which looks like his red baton. He salutes us all when we comes in or go out, and I always salute him back, even though he isn't technically in the Army.
Now he is probably the most beloved man in this camp. I don't know the interpreter involved, but these two show the outstanding side of some of the people here. Once again Afghans, not NATO or the US, risked their lives and thwarted a bombing. When something like this happens, it makes you proud to be here helping to rebuild this country.
But with the good comes the bad. It all started at the airport, when all of our trucks were waiting to enter the flight line and head out to unload a plane. The fourth truck was parked on a slight incline, and instead of going forward it rolled back and hit the fifth truck. The bumpers touched, and I don't think there was even a scratch, but the driver of truck five (we'll call him "5") jumped out and started yelling at the driver of truck four (and of course we'll call him "4"). 4 got out to look at the damage, and 5 got in his face and started yelling.
We all saw that a fight was brewing, and as we started to get out of our vehicles, 5 punched 4 right in the nose. I ran up to them and started yelling. Meanwhile, a second guy in truck four slid over into the driver's seat and started heading out, leaving his buddy behind. I yelled at 5 and pointed at his truck. He promptly threw his half-eaten orange at 4, then we all ran to our vehicle with 4 and jumped in. I jumped in too fast, and smacked my head against the door jam, giving myself a massive headache for the rest of the day. 4 had a nice bloody nose, and we got him cleaned up while heading out to the plane.
Once we get there (yes, I know I've switched from past to present tense; it seems more appropriate), 4 climbs out of the vehicle with blood in his eye. I'm following him, yelling "Nay!", because I know he's out for revenge. He motions that he needs to get his helmet, and heads back to his truck and does indeed retrieve it. However, he still looks deranged. I'm yelling to Hamid to get the ANA major in charge over here, and 4 takes off and finds 5 as he is getting out of his truck. 4 takes his (very heavy) helmet and whacks 5 right on top of the head with it. 5 clutches his head and sinks to the ground, and 4 jumps on him, swinging the helmet. At this point, six of us are trying to pull them apart. 4 swings his helmet back for another blow, and hits SMSgt Reynolds in the head, so now we both have headaches. At this point, I've got the ANA Major, Hamid (my interpreter), and 4 together, and I lambaste 4 for his actions. I tell him he is embarrassing Afghanistan, the Army, and CMA. This seems to have some effect, and he promises to stop fighting, at least until he gets back to base. Good grief.
But I refuse to end on a down note. Sometimes the simplest things can bring incredible joy.The same day we were breaking up fights, I gave Hamid my thick winter gloves. I had given him some lighter ones earlier, but he still looked like he was freezing, so I figured he needed them more than I did. He was incredibly happy. "Oh, these are so thick and warm. I have never seen gloves like these. There are not gloves like these in all of Afghanistan."
After lunch we were walking out and he said, "I am so happy today."
"Why is that?"
"I have these wonderful gloves. They are so nice. Thank you so much."
"You are most welcome, my friend."