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.

AFGHANISTAN, THE BEAUTIFUL |

August 18, 2008

AFGHANISTAN, THE BEAUTIFUL
Name: Cheese
Posting date: 8/18/08
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Milblog: Cheese's Milblog

I'm starting to get a pretty good handle on this place, due in no small part to our having visited every village in our sector. Thankfully, our leadership makes a point to visit with all the local elders to ask what they need and drop off some basic supplies. You'd think that the South Carolina boys we replaced had been doing this all along...and you'd be wrong. Some of these people hadn't seen American troops in years! How is that even possible? But that's neither here nor there, the important part is that we're doing it now, and the people love us for it. It makes me feel a lot safer knowing that all the villages are on our side.

This country is equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking. The people here are more ambitious and resourceful than any I've ever seen. In contrast to Iraq, where you'd see small children wandering aimlessly in the street, here you see small children herding sheep, manning shops and riding bikes weighed down with lumber. Instead of begging exclusively for candy, these children ask for pens, although I'm sure this is as much motivated by the knowledge that every soldier carries pens as it is by a desire to write.Framed_cheese_atb_2

One day, during a supply drop at a local village, I was doing crowd control when I heard someone ask me, "Where are you from, soldier?" I was shocked to see that it was a young Afghan boy, who spoke with little accent. We spoke for several minutes and I left feeling more than a little embarrassed. This kid spoke five languages, and could read English almost as well as any American his age. I signed up for Rosetta Stone that night.

In Iraq, our vehicle antennas had a tendency to pull down the haphazard electrical wires that seemed to have been carelessly tossed from house to house like nets. Every time this would happen, the locals would come ask for money to repair them, then hang them back up exactly the same way, if not worse. During my second week here in Afghanistan, we accidentally tore down a wire just as we entered a village. We immediately tied our antennas down to not cause further damage, as many of the village's wires were hung low. Keep in mind, this town had not seen humvees, or soldiers for that matter, in years.

A few weeks later, we drove through that village again. We tied our antennas in advance this time, but it ended up not being necessary. The villagers had raised every single wire to a height that was safe for our humvee antennas and had not asked for a penny from the reconstruction teams. Iraq this was not.

Unfortunately, the smell of diesel, human waste and burning garbage has followed me here from Iraq. I hope it's not me. This smell, in conjunction with the dilapidated buildings, slashed and burned vegetation and failing infrastructure, serves as a harsh reminder of the impact of Soviet occupation here. It's heartbreaking, because you see what used to be a beautiful country is now dangerous and filthy. Many of the trees were eradicated by the Soviets to deny cover to Afghan and Chechen marksman, and as a part of their "total warfare" campaign. The rest were used for fuel after the infrastructure was destroyed. It's like looking at your house after a devastating tornado; you can see how beautiful and strong it once was, but you don't know where to start putting it back together again. It's immensely frustrating.

At least I know, much as I did in Iraq, that I will always have an answer when people ask me if I'm glad that I came here, and if I thought I made a difference. This time, however, I believe that I'm only returning the favor for all that I've already learned here.

Comments

Nice post and insight, hope the people you meet are continuing to work to make their lives and your assistance in it better. People that work hard, fight hard and hug and hang on hard - basically good people don't do them wrong, the world needs more of them and you.

I guess it's a matter of perspective.

From back here in the world Iraq & Afghanistan look like they're pretty close together. But from where you're standing they're worlds apart, heh?

Thanks for a little bit of your insight. Thanks for everything else too!

Thanks for explaining the other side of Afghanistan not the side that every western hears from their media every day. As an Afghan I can tell you that Afghan people are tired of the imposed war on them. We have suffered much, our country is destroyed from its infrastructure, our schools are closed down and a normal way of life is taken from us. There is a saying in Afghanistan (If you want to destroy a nation, close the door of their schools) the same thing is happening to us. We are a peaceful nation, normal people just like the rest of the world, we have feelings too. We mourn when we lost someone and get happy when achieve something, unfortunately we are introduced to the west as war lovers, terrorists and the enemy of civilization, friends it is not true, we are the victim of terrorism. Our country has become the battle ground of war on terror, we are caught in side it and burning in a fire that others ignited it.
I accept that there are some brains washed elements in some parts of Afghanistan that endorse hatred and see the world only from their own extremist eyes. They are the enemy of peaceful nations and want everyone to live under their law. They are the one who burns our school, and destabilize our nation by their suicide attacks. We can defeat them, if you stop their masters from sending them financial aid, weapons and other kinds of support. You and the whole world know that their masters live in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and some other countries, till the time they are not stopped; it is difficult for Afghans to defeat them.

What a nice account and comparison of the two places. Culturally, linguistically, religiously & even geographically, the two countries are quite different. Thanks for outlining it so clearly.

I am one of the few Americans who have been to Apghanistan in the early 70's - before all this junk. Every one was wonderful and as poor as they were nary a begger in the lot. Having just come from India it was a relief. The girls were in school uniforms and although I saw women in covered dress they were running the chai shops and bakeries along with the men. I am a female - and at the time young - well covered myself by that time having learned the hard way - but was NEVER hit on or bothered in any way by any men ever in the nation of Afghanistan. Again another welome relief from India where it was a constant. I traveled across the center of the country - by myself - by bus and stayed along the way with local people and was never asked for anything or harmed in any way. It was a beautiful experience and my heart broke with the Russian invasion and I knew they could never subdue the Afghan people - it just is not nor ever was possible. I read blogs from all over & Cheese is one of the first I turn to because he is there and pray that there is surge there and peace can come at last and the school for boys and girls can open & stay that way forever. Thank you for posting this on the Sandbox. Lorraine

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Great post. The children of Afghanistan broke my heart and gave me hope all at the same time. They reminded me of my children, and helped me to understand their parents, who hope for their children just like I hope for mine.

I hope that you get a chance to get out into the countryside and around to some other provinces. There are places where peace has broken out; where life has a normal flow. The kids there ask for pens, too.

One of the challenges of this war is to be a warrior and to maintain the humanity that you demonstrated in this post. To be a soldier and still recognize the beauty, the hope, and see the subtlety of life. In a sea of apparent despair and ugliness, with the potential for violence and sudden death, many lose the ability to see it. Sounds like you're doing fine.

Great work. Keep it up.

BTW, the South Carolinians that were our SECFOR were some of the finest men that I've ever had the privilege of knowing.

It is invaluable to hear about this side of an oft misunderstood country. I think that we forget over here that these people are victims just as much as the rest of the world is. The terrorists are in their country, just as we have national terror in our country as well. It is satisfying to hear the other side, especially from someone with such a close perspective to the country and its terror counterparts. Thanks for the great post.

Whenever I think of an Iraqi citizen, I immediately think of negative words to describe them such as terrorist. Now I know that this is far from the truth. It is vital for us to remember that the majority of the people there are victims in this war and their lives are on the line too. Hearing that our soldiers want to help the helpless citizens who are stuck over there amazes me. Attempts are made to harm them on a daily basis and all they care about is giving their needed supplies to those who they feel need them more. Also, I never associate intelligence with children from Iraq. I am shocked that the young boy knew how to speak five languages! So much for being a third-world country.

This entry definitely changed my mind about the people there. Not all of them are bad, just like any where you go- some are good, some are bad. It shows us that they are people too, and they are just trying to live like we are.
You have made a difference their to those people, just like you have made a difference here to us. You are supporting us, and giving your support to them by helping. You do not help just because you have to but because you want to. Thanks for showing all of us the living conditions their. It is heart breaking that any human should have to live like that.

I think it is great that you are making a difference, and it is very inspiring to hear that you are getting as much out of Afghanistan as you are putting into it.

I do not know where to begin, but I could start by saying thanks. Your post and your apparent passion for what you are doing on a daily basis are inspiring and exciting to read about. It is not often everyone back in the states gets a chance to read from the emotions and passion you write. I believe the statement is true that everyone young and old knows of someone overseas in the fight, but it is not often that we get the chance to feel what it is that you see, only if it is in just a few simple paragraphs. Thank you for sharing your message and I will be looking forward to reading more very soon.

Well now, I was searching for blogs on fitness or health when i came across this post. Although not exactly what I was expecting I will give it ****.

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