Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Afghanistan Bound

I have accepted an offer from the State Department to work in Afghanistan for a year.  The current plan (subject to change) is for me to go to Washington early next month for training, and then to head down range to my new assignment at the end of September.  I'll be working on a Field Engagement Team at one of the US or NATO bases.  I don't know which team yet, and even if I did, it would probably change before I got there.  These teams are made up of representatives from State, Defense, and various other departments.  Their mission is to work with local officials and businesses to improve local conditions.

You might think I'm nuts, but I'm very excited about this opportunity.  Why would anybody be excited about going someplace that is medieval at best and a dangerously hot war zone at worst?  Well, for some of  the same reasons that people have volunteered to go to Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, or other trouble spots.  It's a chance to do something that makes an important difference to people's lives.  It's an opportunity to participate in something much bigger than my own puny concerns.  It's a national mission that has to be successful, for their sake and ours.  And it's a difficult job that not many people can or would do, but it's one that I have the skills and experience for.

To be honest, going to Afghanistan was not my first choice.  When I began my job search back in January, I focused on the US, particularly Asheville (where we now live), San Diego (where we have family and friends), and Washington, DC (which is the only place in the country with a strong economy).  I wrote about my initial thoughts in a blog post in February and then in periodic updates after that.  But while I found lots of interesting opportunities in the US, I never got so much a phone interview.  Even though I had a lot of positive comments about my resume, and even when I could show solid accomplishments in everything listed in the job qualifications, I heard nothing except the occasional "job's been filled", "we're reviewing your qualifications", or "no, thanks".  To say it was frustrating is an understatement.

But early on, I started applying for jobs in Afghanistan.  Why?  Well, frankly, I wanted to do something more important than just make money for some corporation, and while there were some great opportunities to make a contribution in the US, there weren't that many of them.  The vast majority of openings that I could reasonably apply for were to fundamentally help some company make a profit.  There's nothing wrong with that, and it could be argued that making a profit is what America is all about.  But just making a profit has never excited me, which is probably why I never did as a professional artist.  Instead, I needed something that provided a deeper meaning and purpose.  The mission in Afghanistan not only did that, but it's something that I'm qualified to do.

And it was Afghanistan that finally came through for me.  After months of hearing nothing back from my job applications, suddenly four organizations contacted me within two weeks.  Each had a very different mission in Afghanistan and all of them were very cool.  I decided to work with the Field Engagement Team in large part because it was a front-line mission.  Although the other positions paid more, they were all support roles.

I can't say Janis is excited about my going away again, but she's a trooper.  We've been through long deployments before, including my previous year and a half in Iraq, so we know what to expect.  She'll do well.

So I'm getting ready to deploy one more time.  I've filled out a ton of forms already, am fixing things around the house, making lists of things to be done in the next month and sometimes actually checking things off of it.  It feels good to have something to work toward.


  1. Oh my goodness, Skip! Janis is a major trooper! I wondered if you were going to stay put. It is true that not many people would put themselves at risk for their beliefs, and those who would, often don't have the opportunity to do so. I am impressed. Best of luck, and I look forward to your Afganistan blog posts!

  2. Anonymous6:26 PM

    Wish I were going with you. I'm bored to tears at my job here, and Alaska is just way too cold for too many months for my taste. I think your reasons for going are similar to the reasons I want to go back overseas. Be sure to do lots of sketching and painting when you are able. Take care and keep your head down, my friend.

  3. Skip, You really have a passion for seeing life at its best and perhaps worst. You are doing a good thing by helping to build a strong provincial government. --I am completing a Masters in Public Administration, it will interesting to read your comments about Afghan governance at the local level. Be safe, Gary Richards

  4. I admire your courage and commitment to service. I look forward to your artwork from Afghanistan and the human touch it brings to your journal/blog. Please be careful.