March 21, 2011

Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

A week ago today my team and I were returned to our friends and family in Minnesota, ending our year together as a team working to train and mentor Afghan soldiers. For some I don't think the year could end soon enough, as there were some strained relationships and guys no longer talking to one another. A year living together can be tough. Hopefully next month when we return for our first reintegration event, time apart will have mended some feelings.

Once our replacements arrived in theatre we set about trying to show them as much of Northern Afghanistan as we could before we were forced to leave. I had one last chance to galavant across the Afghan countryside OMLT 4 on a familiarization trip to Pol-e-Khomri. It was our last trip to the top of "Cement Hill" overlooking Pol-e-Khomri (PEK), and the fertile valley to the south of PEK. They were eager and excited to learn, which was fortunate for us as we were eager and excited to teach them so that we could go home.

The challenge during our handover training was not letting any of our frustrations from the past 10 months overtake their training. We tried to teach and give them realistic expectations of their mission. However, there were a few subjects purposefully not covered or only touched on lightly, as there are some things that it would be best if they learn or experience for themselves. I am very excited though for our replacements and all the good things that they will accomplish. Our team, OMLT 3, left the mission better than we found/received it. Yet there is a lot of room left to grow or directions to take for OMLT 4 to take and plenty of opportunities to succeed.

As when you have to leave summer church camp, the thing that I think many on the team will miss most about Afghanistan is the people. Working with Afghans can be frustrating and challenging, however working with people was very rewarding. The guys in the shop that I mentored -- CPT Sayed Sharif, SGT Mohommed Hussain, SFC Shafiual, SGT Massioula -- were a fun and hard-working bunch. I told my replacement several times that in my opinion he probably has one of the easiest mentoring jobs of the group simply because of the group in the S1 shop.

I'm sure there were probably a dozen changes or improvements that I could have tried with my guys, however what they have seems to work and more importantly work for them. To the best of their ability they keep accurate track of the soldiers in their battalion, and everyone gets paid. If soldiers were not getting paid, I am certain that daily people would have been coming into their office complaining. The complaints I witnessed were not that different from a typical western Army; "You didn't pay me for three days, I was only gone for two days."As I left I was very encouraged as more than once the guys I mentored said that they will miss me, and they wished that I could stay longer.

The people I will miss most were the interpreters that we had working for our team. I was the interpreter manager for our team, and at first I thought having that responsibility would be a burden. Now that my time in Afghanistan has ended, I feel that working as the terp manager, or the "terp whisperer" as the guys on my team called me, was a blessing. The seven young men that we had working on our team were some of the brightest, the future of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for him, one of the guys left us, as his visa came through and he was able to go the United States. During our time in Afghanistan I worked with three of the guys on my team to help sponsor them for visas to the United States. I truly hope that in the future I can see most the young men that worked for me. While I would admit that I would have them visit me here in the United States, someday when Afghanistan is safe and secure (probably 10 or 20 years in the future) I would find it interesting to go there as a tourist to visit them.

One of our frustrations was how we left theatre. We were going outside the wire on missions until the last possible minute. As a result we did not take an opportunity to officially hand over the mission to our replacements, and more importantly properly say goodbye to the men that we had worked with for the past several months.
I had made certificates of appreciation for the guys that I mentored, and for the interpreters that worked for me. I never got a chance to present those in person to everyone. Luckily I had gotten a nice gift for my terp, which I gave to him a few days before handover. Much to my surprise, and enjoyment, he gave me a nice gift also -- a Paron Tambon, an Afghan man shirt and pants. It is a fitted shirt that goes down to my knees, and pants made of the same fabric. Very comfortable, and very common throughout the Middle East. I was very tickled to receive one as a gift.

Since I have returned to my status as a part-time soldier and most-of-the-time civilian, I have been enjoying the leave that I earned while I was deployed. I've already started taking flying lessons again, and am now working to earn my multi-engine endorsement. In a couple weeks, to celebrate my birthday, I'm going to be going on my first cruise. After that I will head out to Arizonia to help my parents as they return to Montana after another winter spent as Snowbirds down south. As I finish writing this post I am excited, as I am about to go and meet, for the first time, a friend that I gained as a result of writing this blog.


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