Pictures and Cigars

I got my hands on some nice cuban cigars yesterday.  It was really good.  By the time I finished one, the buzz was on par with a few beers!  Then I fell asleep, lol.

I also added a few new pictures to my flickr account (which is almost maxed out now).  Enjoy!

Pictures 015

Happy Election Day!

Today is the Afghan Presidential Election!  This is what we have been here for so long for.  There are definitely still challenges, but the Afghan people today get to decide for themselves who is going to lead their country into the future.  Personally, I don’t give a damn who gets elected.  The only thing I care about is that they get to choose.  There is no doubt about the fact that there is a lot of terrorist activity trying to prevent people from voting, but I don’t think it will deter many.  I hope to see a lot of blue thumbs tomorrow.

Happy Election Day, Afghanistan!

In Hindsight

I’m what they call a “short-timer” around here now.  By this time next month, I’ll have returned to the land of the living.  Its been quite an experience here.  It’s not been at all what I expected.  I’m not even sure what I thought it was going to be like.  How can you even guess what something like this will be like?  I’m not sure.  Either way, I have learned a lot.

This has been the single biggest growing experience of my life.  I feel like I have learned a lot about being a soldier and an officer.  I believe (well, hope) that I’ve earned the respect of the seasoned NCOs around me.  I can only imagine what I looked like to them when I first came on board.  A young, green lieutenant added at the last minute who hasn’t even cut his teeth yet.  Its funny looking back.  I have to admit the learning curve has been pretty much vertical.  I was tossed into the thick of it and had to learn as I went. I’ve made a full lieutenant’s share of mistakes here but I’ve learned from them all.

I’m happy with the progress we have made here.  When we first arrived everyone told us not to get too ambitious and to have patience.  Afghans don’t learn really fast and changes seem to take decades.  Of course we thought we could do it better and change the world in our time.  Eventually you realize that you’re pushing boulders up hills.  Its been overwhelming and more than frustrating at times.  Sometimes you even want to throw your hands up in the air and quit.  I can say that I’ve done everything I can used all my skills and knowledge to try and help develop this army.  If anything I taught them sticks, I will never know.  But I’ve created something from nothing here, and that is something to be proud of.

The Weekly Standard – Growing the ANA

The Weekly Standard.

Here is a good (but long) post from the blog for The Weekly Standard.  It has numerous talking points that I agree with about how we need to grow the Afghan National Army.  Although I appreciate Sen. Lieberman’s support for the increase in support for the mission in Afghanistan and the growth of the Army, things look much different through the windows of the Capital Building.

He calls for an increase on the Security Forces to 450,000, at least 250,000 which should be from the Army.  For those who don’t know, we are about at 80,000 right now, and don’t plan to be to the current goal (of 134,000) until December 2011.

As many of you have learned through my writings, things move… slowly here in Afghanistan, to say the least.  To grow the Army by 500% would not be an easy task.

There are inherent difficulties with rapid expansion of any organization.  Just ask Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.  With the challenges of literacy and competence in leadership, creating such a vast army would leave a void in which corruption, laziness, and unpreparedness would run-a-muck.

Currently we train all Non Commissioned Officers and Officers to a certain standard.  They must be able to read and write, the go through several basic schools and Officer Candidate School, and they get specific branch training before being sent to serve as new Lieutenants.

As a LT myself, I can say these guys are just barely ready to head off on their career.  They are young, inexperienced, and in some cases don’t yet have the confidence to lead in battle that can only be gained through experience.  Growing the Army that fast will obviously mean that these young leaders with be thrust up the ranks to run platoons, companies and kandaks.

I know that the key to victory in Afghanistan is an Army and police force able to protect its own people.  I know that is going to take a lot of boots on the ground, but I don’t want to see corners cut and balloon  expansion to try and reach a goal set by someone who has never met an Afghan person before.  One of the things that I admire and appreciate with Obama so far is that he listens to his commanders on the ground and lets them command.  He has not tried to command wars from the White House.  I hope that he continues this and listens to the people who know.

Khaleej Times Online – Afghan army grapples with shortages

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?xfile=data/international/2009/April/international_April1532.xml&section=international

I really enjoyed reading this article because I have a lot to say about it.  So as to avoid rambling, I’m going to put this in bullet format responses as I re-read the article:

  • You have to remember that the cultural differences between the US and Afghanistan are great.  They are much more laid back and seeing them lounging and dancing about is not as strange as it would be if it were US soldiers.
  • Although their military structure is loosely based on ours (and a combo with the Soviets’) they are not the same either.  What works for us will not necessarily work for them.  First of all, Afghanistan in general is not prepared to supply its Army with the sophisticated equipment that we use.  They would not be able to support, fix, train, and sustain with it.  Keep it simple.
  • Remember that we did not have all this heavily armored vehicles and vests until about 6-8 years ago.  When we first entered Iraq, some of the humvees had canvas doors!
  • The article focuses on soldiers at a remote location.  It is no wonder that they dont have as many luxuries and comforts.  I can tell you that where I am at, all the soldiers have cold/wet weather gear, good boots, humvees, body armor, helmets and are starting to get issued M16s.
  • I agree with Hickman on his comment about immediate gratification.  I have seen some soldiers and officers in the ANA simply looking for the US to hand them things.  If we are willing to give them handouts, who are they to break their backs for it?  I really cant blame them, but it has incited them to be a little lazier in some cases.

To sum up, the article makes are great statement,

Building up and training the fledgling Afghan army is a key exit strategy for the United States and other Western powers keen to quell a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan that last year reached its deadliest yet.

But please do not compare our army which has a wealthy, developed country funding and supporting it and has been around for hundreds of years, to Afghanistan’s “fledgeling” army. We were not the same army in 1636 when Massachusetts formed the first Militia (which later became the National Guard), and we didn’t even have mentors.

Kuwait is a hole!

So I’ve started my trek across the globe and I’m stuck in Kuwait overnight (at least).  This place sucks more than Afghanistan.  At least there you have hard barren dirt.  Kuwait is just sand and gravel.  Plus its hotter.  And I’m sleeping in a tent.  Hmph, I guess I just feel like bitching.  I shouldn’t be complaining too much because this is the road home.

I wonder where my next stop will be…

Afghan National Army Kandak Receives First M-16s for Field Training | Soldier of Fortune

Afghan National Army Kandak Receives First M-16s for Field Training | Soldier of Fortune.

This is an article by Guy Volb, a civillian working in the Public Affairs office here at Camp Alamo.  This article was picked up by SOF Magazine recently.  Its a great example of the progress the ANA is making in improving their Army while building its strength.  Before coming here one of my biggest concerns was that Afghanistan was going to be trying to grow the Army so fast that training would be insufficient resulting in a large, ill-trained and poorly led force.  I have since learned that is simply not the case.