Monday, September 26, 2011

Keep Your Eyes Open

I recently downloaded NeedToBreathe's new album "The Reckoning" (which, by the way, took me about an hour because the internet connection is so slow over here!). Anyways, there are a bunch of songs that I absolutely love listening to, but one in particular that really speaks to me. I was listening to it while working out and I almost cried and throw two fifty-pound weights threw a wall at the same time!
Keep Your Eyes Open is, in my opinion, a song written from point of view of our Creator. In this song, He is telling us that there are so many times in life that will be difficult, painful, hard and downright scary; however, we can't let those emotions paralyze us, especially if they stand between us and something in life that we desperately want to obtain or become. Regardless of struggles, if we keep our eyes open (on Him), we can achieve anything. However, if we quit or give up, then we will never fulfill what He has planned for us.
These words could never be more applicable to my life than now. The chorus says, "If you never leave home, never let go, you'll never make it to the great unknown." Honestly, that's exactly what I did when I decided to come over here. I a) left home, b) let go of everything keeping me there (friends, family, work, etc.) because I believed that upon my return, I'll hopefully go into the "great unknown". While I can't really what that is just yet, I firmly believe God has some big plans for me. Maybe not in the world's eyes, but His. All I have to do is keep my eyes open.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On A Unique Mission

For those of you who don't already know, I'm currently serving on a deployment to Afghanistan. My last deployment was in Iraq and I was doing a completely different job, so both the location and work are proving to be somewhat of a challenge.
Anyone not familiar with what a Civil Affairs Officer does could easily google the term and find a variety of different job descriptions. CA is most commonly associated with humanitarian aid and development in a combat or austere environment. Some prime examples of what we do, many of which I have often used myself, include handing out relief supplies, building wells and schools, or working with the host nation government to help strengthen its public institutions. While these are things that we do, what is hard for people to understand is WHY we do them.
The best answer, I think, for what we do is helping the Battle Space Owner (such as a Company or Battalion Commander) win the support of the local populace in order to deny the enemy a safe haven in the area. In many cases, we do this by giving civilians on the battlefield certain things they need or want; however, it is all intended to get something from them in return. Through negotiation and coercion, we can gain points of leverage on the populace that enable Coalition Forces to navigate through an area without civilian obstruction and gain a foothold in enemy occupied territory. If this seems hard to understand, don't worry, it is even harder to explain!
On this tour, I am serving as a Battalion Civil Affairs Officer (S9) and am responsible for helping root out Taliban using the needs and wants of the local populace. This doesn't necessarily mean that all we do is give them food and clothes, or build them schools and clinics. Rather, I am using these potential goods and services as leverage to turn the populace against the enemy. It's a key component in the Counterinsurgency strategy; however, many commanders do not see it that way. Often, all they want to do is kill the enemy; yet, they fail to consider what the fighting can do to the local nationals and how it affects their perception of both Coalition Forces and the enemy. If all we do is blow stuff up and kick in doors, then civilians are more likely to side with the enemy. My job is to show the locals that we are the good guys, not the Taliban.
I'm on a unique mission for two reasons. First, it's not what most people associate with war. Their initial reaction is to think of me as nothing more than a Soldier who walks the streets of Afghanistan, getting shot at or blown up. While this scenario is often the case, they don't quite understand WHY I have to do that. Second, I have to show both my Battalion leadership and peers why I am relevant to their operations. Without me, they risk alienating the locals through fear and intimidation. With me, they have the power to rally thousands of people in the fight against the Taliban.
Over the next several months, I hope to chronicle my efforts and share with you all my successes and failures. It's going to be a long and hard journey, so wish me luck!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Can I Get A Light?

One of the first things I learned about my new "home" is that you have to carry a flashlight on you almost all the time! The sun goes down here around 1815 (6:15pm local time for you civilians) and there are absolutely NO lights outside. We're talking Vin Diesel Pitch Black (a reference to a terrible movie he did back in 2000)! Luckily, before I came here I bought a survival knife with a LED light on the end of it because I can't see 6 inches in front of my face whenever I try to walk around this place. Even worse, the building I live in has no windows and we never turn the hall light on because people are sleeping all hours of the day, so I have to use it in there too! The only good thing about all this is that the enemy can't really see us when we're walking around at night; however, I'm more likely to get hurt walking into a wall or vehicle!

Monday, September 19, 2011


Shortly after reporting back to Ft. Dix in August, I was informed by my company commander that I had been reassigned to another company operating in another province in Afghanistan. However, that was pretty much all the information I had been given. Rather than write a post about the many possibilities of what I would be doing in my new position, I figured I would just wait until I got here, then write a post about it.
To give you a little back brief, I was originally slotted to be the Civil Military Operations Center Chief in Kandahar, supporting the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. This position and location had a certain set of responsibilities that I'd been preparing for prior to the mobilization. When I got here (here being Paktika Province), I was told that I would be the Battalion S9 (read Civil Affairs Officer) supporting the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172 Infantry Brigade. While this is not a completely different job, the duties and responsibilities are unique and have their own set of challenges. Rather than provide you with a bunch of information that could be an obvious OPSEC (operational security) violation and put the lives of my fellow service members in jeopardy, I'll keep my mouth (read fingers) shut.
I arrived in the province last week and got to my new "home" yesterday, so I'm currently getting spun up on operations in the area. The most relevant analogy for what I'm doing now is "drinking from a fire hose" because there's so much information being thrown at me that it's hard to consume it all. Kind of like drinking water from a fire hose...get it???
As always, it will take some time to get established and comfortable in my new locale, so any prayers of support and encouragement will be much appreciated. I have access to the internet on regular basis, so I should be able to communicate pretty easily while here. Hope everyone reading this is doing well and I look forward to hearing about your life back in the states. It will be a nice release from the wartime environment!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Long(est) Goodbye

If someone told me at the beginning of this whole deployment process the first week of March that I would not be leaving until the first week of September, I probably would've asked that very person to punch me in the face. Getting my bell rung might at least distract me from the nauseous feeling in my stomach.
Since the start of this (not so) epic journey, I've been to Fort Jackson, Fort Bragg (where I got branched a Civil Affairs Officer) and Fort Dix 5 times. Yep, that's right. 5 times. Although 2 of the trips were personal trips back home to see my family, the only reason I got to take them was because somebody forgot to inform me and a few others that we were supposed to fly out on 22 August! In short, Fort Dix has become my own person Purgatory. I feel like I'm in a Monopoly game and Dix is the "Do Not Pass Go" block on the board. However, all of that will come to an end today (hopefully). Sometime this afternoon/evening, I'll be on a plane over the Atlantic. I've got a few layovers, but I expect to be in Afghanistan by the end of this week.
Although I might complain about this ridiculously long process, I honestly wouldn't change a thing. I've been blessed with some great, quality time with my family and friends. I have also done a lot of soul searching and discovered that the good Lord has some really interesting plans for me upon my return. Not exactly sure how everything will play out, but I'm sure it will be the beginning of another great chapter in my life. For now, all I have to do is come home!