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.


September 20, 2010

Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Posting date: 9/20/10
Deployed to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

When we were at Ft. Polk during our mobilization training we went through 40 hours of Dari language training, learning some of the basic vocabulary, numbers, and greetings. The training was intended to give us the ability understand the first five minutes of a conversation. So it is useful if we only intend to introduce ourselves to Afghans then ask “How are you?“ with the expectation that they will answer “I am fine how are you?” To which we will always say, “Good." Thus our interpreters are vitally important.

In addition to mentoring the S1 personnel section of our Kandak, my main other duty is serving as Terp Manager for our team. When we got here we inherited six interpreters. In order to try and decrease the strain of having to share interpreters amongst our team, a couple days ago we were able to add an additional Terp to help.

MAJ Baer, the S3/XO mentor, probably has one of the better and most experienced interpreters assigned to our team. Ken has been working as a Terp for the past five years and has a wife and two little kids. Almost a tossup in abilities is Sam, the Terp that works with CPT Anderson, the S4 mentor. Like Ken, he has been working as an interpreter for close to five years. I give Sam a bit of grief, as he is barely into his mid-20s and is dating a girl that is seven years younger than him. He assures me that is normal for Afghanistan.

The third senior member of our team of Terps is Joe, who helps our Command Sergeant Major with his mentoring of the Kandak CSM. Joe is one of the younger members of the team, but he too has been interpreting for about five years. He also has a young wife and child.

I started the deployment working with Sean, who has been a Terp for about a year now. He is unique in that he is the only one on the team that has a college degree. Also single, he sends most of the money that he earns back to his parents, who helped him out quite a bit while he was in college. After a couple months, due to differences of personality, I swapped terps with CPT Reid, the HHC mentor. CPT Reid has a very direct style, and his Terp, Dale, wasn’t always able to effectively convey with the force that CPT Reid needed. Dale is the youngest of our gang of Terps, and my laid-back style seems to work fairly well with his strengths.

The last of our original six is Wally the Wise, as we often call him. The smallest in stature, though perhaps the biggest in heart, Wally is in his mid-20s, and when he gets enough free time he makes a long journey to visit his family. He told us that during his last visit to his parents he purchased a small solar panel system so that they could have some power in order to listen to a radio.

The newest addition to our gang of seven is Kelly, who worked as a interpreter for a medical training team for the past couple years. We are still getting to know Kelly, but thus far it seems like he will be a good addition.

They are a good bunch of guys and make our jobs possible. In our walks to and from the Kandak we get about 10 minutes to BS with our Terps about their lives and families. Part of the fun of those walks is sharing stories about life in the United States. We have taught them several useless and trivial things, stuff that will nonetheless come in handy if they ever get to the States.

For example, I taught Dale and Wally the art of doing a good Truffle Shuffle. They also now know what it means if someone shows up to work acting as though they rode The Little Yellow Short Bus. We now have most of the team able to finish the commercial jingle for Mounds and Almond Joy: ”Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t….”

If our meeting time or place changes I need to tell them the New Bat Time, and the New Bat Channel. Otherwise it is assumed that we will meet “Same Bat Time, and Same Bat Channel.” They also have started to overuse the phrase “Peace Out” whenever we part ways; instead of getting a "See you later" they will tell me to "Peace Out." Fortunately, as far as I can tell, neither I nor any of my team members have taught our Terps any swear or curse words, although I think that most of them, from previous American rotations, already had a pretty good handle on how to swear like an American.

All of my guys are hard workers and have interesting stories to tell. For the ones that are not married, part of their goal with the money they make as interpreter is to help out their families, which is a big part of their culture. Many of them I also believe are saving their money to get married. Even though they may not yet have a girlfriend, a proper wedding ceremony may eventually be one of the biggest expenses in their life. A good wedding is a big deal in Afghan society, perhaps costing more than $10,000 US dollars, with hundreds of friends and family from both sides coming to the celebration. Because their values are a bit different from ours, for some of them it may not be uncommon when they eventually do get married to marry a cousin. We have given them some good-natured ribbing that that is not something that you want to do.

Because they work for the US Army, after a couple years as an interpreter they go to the front of the line in Afghanistan to apply for a visa to the United States. My three guys who have been working as interpreters the longest are pretty far along in their visa applications, and just waiting for different pieces of paperwork to come through. So quite often they will ask questions about where the good places are to live in the United States. Members of US Congress might take note of the fact that our Terps want to settle in the areas that they have heard have the lowest taxes, as they know that they will get to keep more of their own money. Everything in Afghanistan takes more time compared to in the States, but it is possible that three of my guys might make it home to the states before we will finish our deployment.

One thing that is both frustrating and encouraging regarding our Terps is that it is obvious that they are some of the best and brightest young men in Afghanistan. Their families spent money on them to take English lessons at private schools, and for the most part they are pretty smart guys. While good for their individual futures, it is unfortunate for Afghanistan that they want to take their talents and move to the United States. If the smartest young men of Afghanistan want to leave Afghanistan it is going to take a while for this country to even get up to Second World status.

Note: Afghanistan can be a dangerous place for Afghans who work for US Forces, so for this story I changed their names. Also, in pictures that I post I avoid including my Terps. I would hate to see one of them hurt because of a blog entry.


Nice posting, interesting to read. One note: Americans' views on in-breeding come out of old science. The modern view seems to be that anything further out than second cousins is no problem, and may actually be beneficial in terms of initial attraction, long-term closeness and bonding, and larger family size. Breeding with siblings is a no-no, and 1st and 2nd cousins offer poorer prospects.

I'm curious, how many terps are double-agents? Very few I hope.

Survival is tough in Afganistown.

Hi from Australia.Enjoyed your post you guys seem to be getting along ok with the locals. We are real suspicious of activities over there as it is almost a weekly occurrence that our guys are shipped back here for burial. Its a sad state of affair.

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