A few minutes ago, I was standing outside of my room looking up at the sky. Stars everywhere. There is almost no light pollution out here, so you can see so much. However, every time I look up, I realize how unfamiliar the sky looks. The stars are out of place, and nothing looks the same. Then I remember where I am, how far from home I’ve come.
It still amazes me almost every day to realize that I’m in Afghanistan. The decision I made, and have made up to this point have been great decisions, but so different than what I was expecting 5 or 5 years ago. When I was younger, I never would’ve thought that I’d enlist in the Army or fight a war. I’ve done and see some things out here that I never thought I’d experience, and it’s incredible to see how it has impacted me. This deployment has been a humbling experience to say the least.
Despite having been here for 5 months, it’s still shocking to see the type of poverty and squalor that most of these people live in. The vast majority of the people out here live in mud huts with no running water, no electricity (a few have generators or solar panels that hardly work), and can’t read or write. They live in the constant danger of randomly being shot at, blown up by a suicide vest or and IED, or some other form of violence, and so many of them work from sun up to sun down just get enough food to feed their families.
Women are still oppressed, although not nearly as severely as when the Taliban was in control. A lot of progress has been made, there is a woman holding federal government office currently, but anywhere outside of Kabul, women typically are still expect to wear burqas and don’t really have much opportunity to gain education. Although, realistically no one has much opportunity for education.
Despite all of this, these people are some of the hardest working, most adaptive, and resilient people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interact with. They, as a culture, are extraordinarily reckless. I have yet to figure out why, but it seems like every single day I see 5 or 6 people narrowly escape death simply because they aren’t paying attention or they are impatient. The Pashtu culture is incredibly generous, extremely prideful, and very close knit. It’s been very interesting for me to see it first hand and get to know some of the Afghan Border Police officers personally. Despite the fact that I don’t speak Pashtu, and most of them speak almost no English, we’ve still gotten to know each other pretty well. There is a guy who works out here that is self-nicknamed “Afghan Dave,” who speaks enough English to say hello, ask how you’re doing and explain he’s from Kandahar but loves to party in Kabul. He’s been shot 5 times, blown up 6 times, and had to get surgery twice. Once to get shrapnel removed from his abdomen. Once he found out I was a medic, he immediately began to show me all his scars. He’s a great guy, and he absolutely loves the U.S. soldiers. To him, we are all brothers in a fight against evil. At least, that’s what he had the interpreter explain to me.
I know that a lot of people are unhappy with how long we’ve been at war in Afghanistan, they feel like we didn’t accomplish anything or that it has all been for nothing. I want to assure everyone, that from my brief experience here, I can confidently say that our presence here has made a huge impact on the quality of life, the stability, and the safety of the general populace. Is it still dangerous out here? Yes. It is. I will admit. But no where near as bad as it was even 2 years ago. The Taliban is still here, but the partner ship between us (Coalition Forces) and the Afghan Forces has proven pretty effective at keeping them in check, and while I know violence will increase when we pull out, I feel confident in the Afghan Forces that we have trained to take over and keep control of the country. The men I know personally are well trained, disciplined soldiers who will not hesitate to bring the fight to the enemy. Seeing how they work has given me confidence and appreciation for what we’ve done here over the years. I’m proud to say that I can say I was a part (even if my part was small) of the progress made in Afghanistan.
And, I still have two more months here. When I got the news that my deployment was being extended for 2 months, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was excited because I’ve enjoy these few months here and the money is pretty good. On the other hand, I was very excited to go back to The States. However, being here has made me appreciate what I have so much more than I did before. The opportunities I was given growing up, the opportunities I have now, the stability, the ease of living… It’s all taken for granted so often, by myself especially, and looking back, I definitely was not nearly as grateful for all of it as I should have been. This opportunity to come out here has made me realize so many things about myself, my life, the people in my life, and just life in general. I think I’ve used my time out here wisely, and I plan on continuing to do so when I get back.
My motivation has come back twice as hard as I had it when I first started my military adventure, and this momentum has made me so excited about the future and I’ve realized that my biggest problem over my life is my inability to make a decision and commit 100% to it. I’m changing that now. Right this second. I have a plan for the next few years, and I’m sticking to it. I’m so happy with how things have gone over the past few months, and the realization that the next few years could be the most defining years of my life is exhilarating, although also nerve-wracking. I only hope that I can continue making the same kind of progress I’ve made over the past few years and have it continue into the rest of my life. The military has been a life changer for me, the single best and most important thing I’ve done to date, and for that I will be forever grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. I’m proud to call myself a soldier, a medic, and a brother in arms to some of the best men I’ve ever met in my life.
Motivation, dedication, discipline.