An Explanation...1st New York Times Entry
Waiting for the Thaw
By Arnold Strong
Kabul, Afghanistan – My name is Arnold Strong. I am an Army officer assigned in Afghanistan as the chief of training and operations for the Training Assistance Group that advises the Kabul Military Training Center on Kabul’s easternmost stretch of Jalalabad Road. My responsibilities are split about 60-40 between mentoring my Afghan counterpart and being the operations chief for my coalition headquarters. Brits, Yanks, Canucks, Irishmen, Kiwis, Frenchmen and Romanians, all of us rolled into a collective whole of trainers and mentors to our Afghan brothers. We are men and women from seven countries and all branches of military service tasked with training an army so it can train itself.
A convoy patrol through southwest Kabul, with the Darulaman King’s Palace in the background.
I left my home in Salem, Ore., in March for a three and a half month train up at Camp Shelby, Miss., before arriving here in late June. On Father’s Day this past June, one day before I started my own commencement toward the Hindu Kush, I delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of U.C.L.A.’s Department of English, the largest in the nation. My wife and I had graduated from the program in 1990 and I guess there was something timely to having an Army officer alumnus speak about what you do with an English degree on the day before he deployed to a war zone. It made an impact on me, and I hope on the newly graduated members of “the real world” to see so many faces full of hope. My main theme to them on what to do with an English degree was to “Write. Write. Speak. Read. And write.”
The hardest part of all of this, of course, was leaving my family behind — again. When I broke the news to my two sons, aged 12 and 8, the oldest said, “I hate my life.” Then after a long pause of tears and sobs, he continued, “You already went to the war and you went to the hurricanes and you go away all the time and I don’t want you to leave.” I don’t know if it hurt me to hear his words and see the pain in his eyes so much as it floored me that an 12-year-old could so confidently and articulately express his grief. The youngest cried his way to sleep in my arms that night.
It was different with my wife. She is a mature and self-confident woman and she knows that I have been a soldier since before we first met, but it does not make it any easier to be away from her. She is a constant calm in the darkest hours of this journey, the one voice that brings me peace in this crazy land of improvised explosives and suicide-bomber tendencies borne of hopelessness and despair. I miss her and my boys, but have a mission to do. The more I deploy myself into this role, the faster the time goes by, the sooner I am home with them again.
Back home, I served as an executive at a public company until our unit, the 41st Brigade Combat Team of the Oregon National Guard, was mobilized for this deployment. I resigned from my position with the company before deploying on this mission. Why, you might ask? Well, despite the fact that I had already served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, this mission, this team, this opportunity was hard to turn away from. My team had already served together in the wakes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and trials like that make for tight bonds of trust and confidence in your leadership. And with an opportunity to travel with this same team to the land of the Hindu Kush, to meet the Hazara, Pashtun, and Uzbek peoples, to learn Dari-Farsi and drink chai with the elders, all while training an army that we would not abandon, that yearned for our support and experience, seemed to me to be a rare gem in the constant operational tempo of the modern Army.
It is an interesting time here. Although I have been in country for five months, I have only been in this position for the past five weeks. Immediately prior to serving as the operations officer mentor to KMTC, I served as the task force public affairs officer, or P.A.O. When asked to contribute comments to this blog, I jumped at the opportunity to work the other side of the headlines, to report my own thoughts and assessments. The last events I worked as a P.A.O. were a dismounted patrol escorting Terry Moran of ABC News Nightline and giving a post I.E.D. interview to Al-Jazeera. As I said, it has been an interesting tour so far, and I am not even at the halfway point.
Sunset, Nov. 12
The seasons are starting to turn. There were still remnants of summer until last week, then Thursday and Friday it rained and suddenly the sun was replaced by clouds and cold, wet air, which was refreshingly reminiscent of the weather back home in Oregon. It seems the violence has quieted somewhat as well. We need to enjoy the quiet while we can. After winter’s numbing of the hatred and malicious intent of the enemy, we will likely see a Taliban spring offensive more aggressive than any other, if our estimates are correct.
And they usually are.