For the first six months of what started out as a six-month deployment, I served on a 3-star general’s personal staff. My duty was to be available around the clock to arrange the commander’s air travel around Afghanistan or to NATO conferences in Europe and the U.S. It did not particularly matter that I spoke the local language, that I had many connections in the city and visions of improving the relationship between our base (where around 2,000 soldiers, civilians, and contractors from several dozen nations lived) and the Afghan community affected by our presence. In spare moments between planning air movements, I began writing the proposal for an outreach team that would spend most of its time outside the walls, talking with and listening to regular Afghan people. I connected with like-minded fellow officers who supported the schemes to overcome our dangerously insular thinking. We invited Afghan scholars and think tanks onto the base for “strategic seminars,” to shed light on the issues that plagued and perplexed the staff.
Most of the officers I worked with were not aware that such people or groups existed.
For the most part, high-ranking officials thought of our base (and other fortified bases) as safe, and everywhere else as dangerous. This was a lie. But it made them feel calmer for going to sleep at night. These types of mind-walls drove highly restrictive policies under which getting out of a vehicle in the street to say hello or buy some fresh naan was tantamount to a crime. This is what I, specifically, was charged with under what the Army calls a 15-6, an investigation of presumed misconduct.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Namedwell: Synonyms for Self by Farzana Marie. In her submission, Ms. Marie described Namedwell as “vignettes and mini-essays…composed of the raw materials of personal story.” Twelve days after submitting her work, Ms. Marie, a U.S. Air Force veteran (2006-12) and a doctoral student in Middle Eastern literature at the University of Arizona, suffered a massive stroke and fell in Afghanistan. She is now being treated in Arizona, but has so far lost the ability to speak or write, and is challenged cognitively. To find out more about this inspiring young writer, please visit the fundraiser page set up in her honor.
Note on the Photo: Members of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team partake in a lunch of naan, rice, roast meat and chai, in the Panjshir province of Afghanistan Aug. 7, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)
From Eight Slices of the War in Afghanistan by Farzana Marie
Introduction by Dan Cafaro, Publisher
I: To Merge, To Erase
II: Restrepo: One Slice of the War
III: Inside with an Itch
IV: Enter to Search
V: To Fight
VI: To Find or Be Found
VII: When Language Fails
VIII: Tea with Terrible Questions
Afterword by Dr. Timothy Kirk, Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret)