Parliamentarians, Canadians & NATO all in a day
The days go by quickly when you are immersed within your work. Joseph Campbell's priceless advise to "Follow Your Bliss" is an axiom I have tried to live by for years.
My bliss yesterday was in making sure that as many people as possible had a favorable visit to the Kabul Military Training Center, but the running never stopped as I went, like a vintage Bowie record, from station to station. I started by meeting with my Afghan colonel for the weekly staff meeting, I try to meet him in advance but this morning it was little hectic and I got there right before the meeting commenced. We had our meeting and then I had to trek back to my side of the compund to meet about a dozen retired Canadian Generals that serve as the media's "Talking Heads" or military experts for all the media in the country, sort of like our Barry MacAffrey or David L. Grange, resident ranking military experts that can give an informed opinion to the media. But how these guys managed this boondoggle of a trip, escapes me. From there, we had to get back to the Afghan side of the camp for a confirmation briefing with the senior Afghan officers about several ranking government officials that were coming within the hour. We were being visited by the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Mister Qanooni. He is a very charismatic leader that ran against Karzai in 2004 and is widely perceived by many as a likely candidate for the presidency following Karzai. He was truly an amazing guest, an eloquent and passionate speaker and a hero to many. Having survived a bombing attack by Gulbudyin, he now walks with the assitance of a cane.
Working with my Afghan counterparts, we had organized a pretty detailed schedule for he and about two dozen other parliamentarians to witness. then, Incha Allah, they decided to change the plan...that morning!! Realizing that we had a change and change, although constant, is not something that many senior leaders like to see on something as well coordianted as a visit by senior elected officials, I realized it was my job to brief Lt. Gen. Eikenberry on his arrival.
Eikenberry is pretty much most respected American in this country. He has been here off an on for almost the entire five years that we have been in Afghanistan. I saw him here when I first visited Afghanistan with Maj. Gen. Alex Burgin, the former Adjutant General of Oregon, in 2003. In the words of one of the Afghan Colonels I met with later, "General Eikenberry is the number one friend of Afghanistan. He was with me when we stood up the first Kandak and he is here with us still. He knows that we will succeed. He takes the time to talk with us as we are fellow soldiers and he always remembers who he meets. He is very special to us and he is a good friend to Qanonni and President Karzai. He respects us and we respect him."
We took the entire delegation out to the rifle ranges to witness some of the marksmanship training that they were exectuing. He organized a media engagement there on the range, which according to the theatre public affairs officer, was a major success. We then returned to the main post to join the Afghan private soldiers in their mess hall for the lunch meal. It was a great opportunity to sit with the new soldiers. The meal was actually quite good, consisting of a large serving of rice, mutton and a vegetable stew with an apple and a large piece of Naan (flatbread).
I brought my interpreter with me, Zabih and kept him close throughout the day. We are almost inseparable during the days here. One of the soldiers tried to keep the paring knife that he so admired. After lettting him look at it, I decided to recover it, explaining through Zabih, "You know I had better take that back as I am sure that someone could use that in a bad way in the barracks." The soldier laughed and nodded, shaking my hand and explaining through Zabih that he thought I was right.
We then left the dining facility and returned to the Alamo. Then, almost immediately after all of this, 1SG Weber leaned into my office and explained that we had a team of about a dozen senior leaders from NATO Headquarters in Brussels that were at the KMTC HQ awaiting our arrival for a briefing. It was a surprise but, I introduced myself to the German Colonel Winfried Quandt "Guten Tag, Mein Oberst! Wie Gehts ist Einen? Ich heisse Major Strong von dem Americanische Grupe "Training and Assistance" hier bei KMTC. Ich bin Chef der Operatzionin. Wie Heisen Zie, Bitte?" in German and then said my "Bon Jours" to the French and my "Bon Giorno" to the Italian Colonel before reinforcing my Afghan Colonel's briefing with a hard copy of our briefing to take back to Brussels.
In parting, I traded contact information with the senior delegate to take to Msr. Eric Brintet, an old friend who remains the Controller des Armee' for NATO in Brussels. Eric was a French Armor Captain in Berlin with me and he and his wife, Alix, were friends of ours in Berlin during the early ninties. Margaret and I stayed at their flat in Paris several times.
So that was my Halloween Day in the Central Asian Highlands of Afghanistan!
(Note: Some of this was adapted from a letter to friends back home)
Special thanks to Afghan Army Captain Shapoor for the photos of Minister Azimi and I and Speaker of the House Qanuni.