The next morning we hit the ground running and inspected the up-armored vehicles that we would be responsible for. Our training at Fort Riley familiarized us with them and now we will put our training to use. The only difference is every time we leave the FOB, we will go “hot” with live ammunition instead of blanks.
After we received a small briefing, we visited our Afghan Kandak. A Kandak is equivalent to an Army battalion. I was informed my responsibility for the next year is to mentor the Afghan Sergeant Major. Before we would meet and greet, we had to get a translator to accompany us. The interpreters have a good understanding of our English language except for when we use slang or idioms. They are too proud to tell you they don’t understand, so it’s important to observe nonverbal facial cues and provide clarity.
Initially the Sgt Major wasn’t in so we stopped by to greet the Kandak colonel. My team chief was already inside his office when we arrived. We were greeted and offered the traditional cup of chai (tea). It reminded me of past deployments, especially in Kuwait when I made purchases for the government from local vendors. Every vendor would insist on a cup of chai before discussing business. I’m convinced by the end of that tour; I consumed a 55 gallon drum of chai!
Later on I met the Afghan Sgt Major. He seemed impressed with the few sentences of Dari I was able to mutter. Using the translator I explained that I was a writer and I wanted the American public to read and hear stories about Afghan life. I quickly learned he has been a soldier for a long time and witnessed war first-hand. My interest turned to the Soviet occupation era. He explained that the Russians forced Afghan soldiers and citizens into their army to fight the Mujahadeen. Recall the Mujahadeen warriors were being indirectly supported by the United States. So in essence you had Afghans fighting Afghans. Based on my short research of Afghanistan, I don’t recall reading about this in any history book. So I am looking forward to exploring this subject in more detail. If I were to draw a parallel, this would be similar to our Civil War.
My team was invited to join the Afghan leadership in a specially prepared meal. Immediately I panicked because I forgot to put a spare spoon in my pocket for this occasion. As we sat down at the table I scanned it carefully and no flatware was to be seen. We would have to eat the meal with our hands. The cook was stirring some sort of egg mixture in a steel pot on the floor. It was equivalent to our eggs Ranchero. On the table, the paper plates were filled with some basil leaves, Italian Parsley, small slides tomatoes and cucumbers and in honor of us they made some sort of French fries. After watching our hosts eat, I mimicked them and followed suit. The Nan bread substituted for the missing spoon for scooping up the eggs Ranchero. We ate our meal, exchanged some pleasantries and then returned to our camp.
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