2nd New York Times Entry
Making It Work, Giving Thanks
By Arnold Strong
Kabul, Afghanistan – The Afghan Soldiers march across the parade field every day at four o’ clock in the afternoon. On a recent afternoon, the light was extraordinary, clearly illuminating the white caps of the mountains that enclose Kabul’s Eastern frontier, the foothills of the Hindu Kush brilliantly on display, as the newest foot soldiers of the Afghan National Army marched along, Soviet Style, bringing in the thunder.
As the main force in the transformation of the Afghan National Army, the Kabul Military Training Center is not only building the military from the ground up, it is also teaching and communicating to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan the importance of building its own internal defense. Consequently, hardly a week goes by that we are not hosting visiting dignitaries, both Afghan and coalition. In the month and a half since I got here, we have hosted the speakers of both the lower (elected) and upper (appointed) houses of the Afghan Parliament, over a dozen visiting general officers, a survey team from NATO headquarters in Belgium, and many others.The visits often impart to the guests how very much has been accomplished in the four years that this institution has existed, but the challenges we experience every day are hard to communicate to an audience that so desperately wants to see success. We are building an army while it is fighting a war. We are mentoring Afghans, and trying to convince them to consider themselves Afghans rather than to exclusively identify themselves by tribe or ethnicity. We are doing this with fewer resources than those being provided to Iraq, fewer than those poured into Bosnia, and frankly, fewer than we need to get the job done in an efficient manner.
But it does us no good to make comparisons with Iraq. We have our job to do with the resources we have. In the words of our commander, Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt, “What we can do is what’s going on today: build the Afghan National Army and make a difference for the citizens of this country.”
On Thanksgiving, we invited our Afghan counterparts to partake in the feast and the Kellogg Brown and Root (K.B.R.) contractors did us right. Even on our forward operating base, they brought us all the fixings. Turkey and ham, steak and shrimp, fruits and nuts, sweet potatoes, rice and beans, salads, pies and even ice cream from Baskin Robbins. It is great to appreciate the bounty provided to these soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines all far from home, and amazing to understand the Herculean effort it takes to deliver such a feast. Seeing the joyful smiles of some of our Afghan workers enjoy the dinner (and the sparkling grape juice) was a treat, sharing a smile and a bit of turkey, giving thanks for each others’ work, appreciating the blessings we share as family for each other when we are all so far from our own loved ones.
Arnold Strong, far right, with two Afghan workers on Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving feast.
Last week was not only Thanksgiving. It was also my 39th birthday.
I received a hazelnut torte from my wife in the mail. She had also included a mason jar of a home-made chocolate sauce for icing. Miraculously, it made it here in six days. Typically, it takes 10 ten days on the button for a package from Oregon to arrive in Kabul. As a result, it was moist and fresh. I had hoped to share it with some of my colleagues after our weekly meeting at the Ministry of Defense. But that optimistic notion was dealt a dose of reality by an imminent threat warning from our intelligence officer. After learning that a suicide bomb attack along a route often used by coalition troops was likely, our commander banned all non-essential traffic. So we were stuck on base for the day.
“It is all fine until someone gets stuck in the eye,” goes the old saying. Here, it’s a little different. It is all fine until an I.E.D. blows up on the main supply route.
Then we are all reminded that we really are in a war zone.