As I begin typing this, there is now less than an hour left in 2010 in Afghanistan. I could probably spend the next several hours sharing many of the highlights of this past year. I will however attempt to make this somewhat short.
This time last year I was with my parents in Yuma Arizona watching the ball drop from the television in their motor home. I had no clue what the good Lord would bring me in 2010. Looking back at the year that is now behind me I do not have too much to complain about. In January I was focused on taking flying lessons and earning my fixed wing instructor ratings, with the hope of finding a job in the aviation world. A few weeks into January I got a call asking me if I would deploy to Afghanistan on a short notice mission. A few short weeks later, on the 1st of March I was mobilizing with 12 other men whom I had never met before to prepare to travel to Afghanistan.
Spring found me and the rest of the guys training at Ft Polk preparing for our mission as combat advisors to the Afghan Army. One of our biggest surprises was how nice Ft Polk was. Almost everyone I had ever talked to in the Army who had been to Ft Polk felt that it was the armpit of the Army. I can't speak for the entire team, but compared to my two previous mobilization training sites it was like a mini-paradise.
After Ft Polk we flew to Camp Hohenfels, which is in Southeastern Germany to join up with our Croatian Counterparts and Fellow Mentors. In less than a month of combined training we were able to meld two different Armies with two different native languages and make us into one team.
Arriving into Afghanistan was a whole new experience filled almost daily surprises. I still remember my surprise during my first drive from Marmal airport to Camp Mike Spann at seeing 90% of the women walking around in burqas. After going to war almost 9 years ago so that the women of Afghanistan would no long have to wear the full body vails, they still were by choice I had to assume.
Working with our Afghans I, and most all the others on the team found it mostly to be a giant exercise in patience. Their culture and way of doing things is completely different than the way that I was raised. Regardless of cultural differances the biggest challenge most of us found is the simple lack of education amongst the soldiers in our battalion. So few of them can read or write, and barely have a third grade education at best. So getting an Army to march forward into battle is going to be a challenge, when half the soldiers are tripping over their bootlaces because they haven't learned to tie them yet. While that is not literally the case, that is a good example of what we other multi-national mentors face here.
My biggest surprise and memories is all the good friends that I have gained over the past year. Not only do I expect to remain good lifelong friends with many of the US and Croatian soldiers that I've deployed with, in a couple months I will be sad to leave some of my Afghan friends behind. One of my additional duties here has been as the Terp Manager for our team, and I have been very pleased with working with these young Afghan men. Additionally through my interpreter I have shared a lot of good laughs with the Afghan soldiers I have mentored. Additionally through this blog that I have been writing I have gained several new friends. Many of whom, have sent me personal letters, emails, and care packages. All of which have been greatly appreciated.
Writing this blog has also been a real adventure as I have also been able to share pictures and experiences throughout my deployment. I know that a lot of people back home are thirsty for information of what our lives are like while we are deployed, so I hope that my writings have given some new insight for those forced to watch the Afghan war from their living room.
As this year comes to a close my team and I are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our replacements, who are now in Croatia completing their collective team training. I'm sure that when they arrive many of us will get the impression that there are no way that these guys are going to handle it here; conversely many of them will probably be thinking my team is filled with a bunch of knuckleheads and our leaving Afghanistan will help the people of Afghanistan more now that we are gone. Same impressions that I've experienced during my past deployments and our Handover Operations Movement Outbound phase.
I'm anxious to see all the surprises that the good Lord will have in store for me during 2011. Hopefully this time next year I will be able to look back as fondly to 2011 as I feel that I am able to at 2010. I guess I am most curious at where it is I will be doing my reflections. Will I be with my family, in the arms of a loved one, at a bar holding onto my favorite drink, Best of luck in 2011 to all who may read this, I hope that the Lord will bring many blessing down upon you. If you should happen to read this and it is still 2010, have a drink for me.