Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spin Boldak

Life is different when you're traveling with a general.  They go with entourages.  They'll have several cars to move everybody.  Helicopters wait for them.  When the group gets to wherever the general is going, there are people there to take and store everybody's gear, guide all the staff to their particular destination, and make sure that everybody is well taken care of.  They treat you like you're Very Important. 

I didn't have the heart to tell them I'm not very important.  The only ones who think I'm important are my dogs and sometimes my wife.  I just happened to be the designated staff officer to tag along on this trip.  But I didn't say anything, I just smiled and enjoyed it while I could.  Tomorrow, it'll be back to the real world: humping my bag and battle rattle (kevlar vest, helmet, and other heavy goodies) along a dusty road, waiting two hours for the helo to arrive (IF it arrives), trying to figure out where to go and what to do at the far end, and hoping to hell that I got off at the right FOB.  

Today's trip was to attend a quarterly operations briefing in the province of Spin Boldak, which is down on the border with Pakistan.  This briefing was special because it was being done by the Afghan National Security Forces, meaning the Army, National Police, Border Police, Customs, and the District Governor.  Now a US military organization could put on a presentation like this without breaking a sweat, although it would inundate you with 75 PowerPoint slides and detailed discussions of logistical and operational considerations that you would never have considered.  Not so with the Afghans.  This is still very new to them.  The men speaking today are smart in all ways Afghan, but many of them probably can't read and few have done much in the way of public speaking.  Still, they did a fairly credible job.  Very little of what they said was news to us, but that wasn't the point.  The goal was to get them to think about what it is they've done so far, what their goals are, what their resources are, how to get where they want to go, and how to put that thought process into words.  

Since I was considered Very Important, I had a front-row seat, right in front of the stage with the real VIP's.  That meant I couldn't nod off, scratch wherever it itched, or behave like I normally do.  So I entertained myself with sketching a few of the briefers instead, making it look like I was taking notes.  

This was the Chief of Police for the district of Spin Boldak.  He and his men have a very tough job.  This district has a sizable local insurgency.  More importantly, it has one of Afghanistan's primary border crossings with Pakistan.  There's a huge amount of traffic (well, huge for this area) going back and forth.  Smuggling has been a major occupation ever since the border was created and they're very good at it.  And the smugglers carry everything: war material in, drugs out, booze in, money out, people both ways, and more.  The Border Police are charged with taking care of the border, but the Chief of Police has to deal with all the district's related issues.  And he has to do it with a minuscule budget and people who often aren't paid for maybe months at a time.

This was the District Governor.  He also has an unenviable task.  Unlike American governors, Afghan governors don't have much power.  He doesn't make or control the district's budget, for example, since there isn't one.  All funds are apportioned to line ministries by the national government in Kabul, and the ministries control their own activities in the districts.  Imagine if your Department of Public Works was funded by, and answerable only to, a National Public Works Department in Washington.  That's what these guys have to live with.  They are, essentially, appointed by President Karzai to keep tabs on what's going on at the local level.  They kinda/sorta make the district's concerns known to the provincial and national level and maybe try to coordinate a few things between ministries.  Maybe.  And more than a few have been assassinated over the years.  Think you'd want that job?

But all in all, the briefing went well.  I had some good discussions with my contacts down there and met a few local Afghans, including the District Governor.  Then it was time for the Entourage to Depart, so off we went to catch our Blackhawk helicopters again and fly back to our base.  And then life returned to normal: back in the office, about a hundred emails were waiting for me.  Such excitement, I can't imagine.


Tera Lea said...

Skip, Good to read your story, and I like the sketches - really adds to your story! Thanks, for all your friendship in the past, and the great work you are doing now. You are VERY Important. :P
- keep your head on a swivel.

Tera Lea said...

Great to see your update, and your story. the Sketches are really nice, adds a lot to the people. Thanks for sharing, and for your friendship. You are VERY Important... ;P

Franan said...

Killing time with art is nice plus the invaluable experience of being there were history is in the making rescuing a country in the verge of falling in the dark side. You are important there regardless of your self esteem or how you feel. Important enough is the fact you’re there representing our country in a bold way (cause you stand out and there is no way you can blend in), risking your life and wellbeing to perform at your best with the resources given.
It falls in your bosses to employ you to the best of your abilities but you and I know very well that happens only if agreeable with their agendas, sometimes other than the mission. Otherwise it is you, your initiative to make the best of the circumstances and yourself, risking despise or underestimation.
I’ve experienced the most gratifying part of a job wasn’t the money, position or the own system recognitions, all that had its inherent expected satisfactions or direct deposit. By means of self motivation (however you achieve that) you develop your attitude and ideas into actions that influences positively the people around you. They don’t have to know you, your position or how you are going to help them. A positive perception generally conveys better things to come. In my first tour to Iraq I did many small things like recommendation letters for the locals to get attention or services, informal projects visits, networking facilitation, care packages forwarding or sharing, and a lot of just plain emphatic listening to Iraqis, enlisted soldiers, and corresponding with well wishers from the homeland. The actions went viral with subordinates and associates and it didn’t took long when our conversations shared success stories renovating motivation and building pride about helping people and bridging the two nations.
The bottom line you are a resident VIP, it’s a matter of how much you are going to grow from there. Keep blogging my friend.

Shea said...

Catching up and enjoying reading all of your posts. Happy Thanksgiving.