I’m kicking off the Deployment Stories with my Afghanistan Deployment. I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 on a Provincial Reconstruction Team. This is Day 3 of my 31 Day Series. If you want to start at the beginning click here.
You can also check out Women of the Military podcast to hear more stories of military women.
Rank during deployment:
1st Lieutenant (O2)
Branch of Service:
Current rank/current job if you have left the military:
Stay at home mom/Blogger
Where did you deploy to?
What was you or your team’s mission?
I was sent on to be on a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kapisa Province. Our team was supposed to help connect the government of Afghanistan (GIRoA) with the people. Our construction projects (roads, bridges, schools, government buildings) were nominated by the government, built by locals and managed by us.
What was your job?
I was a Civil Engineer and that meant we were in charge of all the construction projects within Kapisa Province. When we started the deployment we were managing 26 projects ranging from flood protection to buildings to roads. We also had to run missions off the base and into Kapisa so that we could inspect (Quality Assess/Quality Control) the projects. We were also required to meet with various contractors and coordinate with other sections of the PRT.
What cultural differences do you remember between Afghanistan and the United States?
There down day was Friday and not Sunday. Our commander didn’t understand this cultural difference and made our down day to be Sunday. It made for two days a week we couldn’t really do meeting or run missions.
What landscape differences do you remember between Afghanistan and the United States?
It was very mountainous. The terrain was very similar at the Forward Operating Base as it was in Alamogordo New Mexico. There was a lot of farming and agriculture in Kapisa. It was similar to where I grew up in California, but also very different since it was rural and small towns. There were no major freeways, barely any roads that our team could use to drive throughout the country. It was also very green the farther in the mountain you went.
Were there any particular foods that you ate while in Afghanistan that was different from the United States?
We would have something similar to kabobs from the local market (normally goat) wrapped in nan (afghan bread). It was super yummy, but you would have to watch for bones and other things in the meat. One day a contractor brought up food and he told us he had slaughtered the goat in the morning. A little different than back home.
The Afghan food was really yummy. I also remember rice with carrots and raisins and they had nuts covered in sugar that were so yummy.
What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in Afghanistan?
We spent a lot of time training for how to interact with the locals since I deployed as a civil engineer and my counterpart was also a female. But when we arrived in country we were told not to wear head covering because then the contractors would look down on us.
Afghan contractor had been used to working with American women and from what I could tell they didn’t seem to have a problem working with us. They might tell us that we were lazy or broken due to cultural differences, but I guess it didn’t really bother me. One contractor talked about his 20 children and my friend and I were taken aback by so many kids. And when he found out American families typically have 1-3 children he stated American women are lazy.
As a female, do you remember being treated differently because of your sex?
I guess I touched on that a little above, but I would say with the Afghans I really didn’t feel like I was treated different. There were a few issues with members on our team, but I would guess those more had to do with dynamics related to things outside of gender.
Being deployed requires you to live with the people you work with and there isn’t anywhere to go to get away from the people you are working with, especially on the FOB we were at.
Our team became a family. We had some people who fit into the crazy cousin that like to stir up trouble, but overall, we were a tight knit group and looked out for each other.
What challenges did you face?
Our commander wasn’t the best leader. The team I was on was a mix of Army and Air Force personnel. The commander was Air Force, but being out on the ground doing tactical missions was not his expertise. It ended up that he brought down morale and it took a long time for leadership at higher levels to make changes.
By the time he was fired the deployment was almost over and we were all just ready to go home. Outsiders looking in said things that were untrue and hurt morale even more. It was a really hard deployment.
Did you have any regular frustrating situations or a frustrating situation you can share about?
One of the things we had trouble with was helping the Afghans understand timelines and maintaining the building being handed over to them.
When we would ask for timelines they would give completion dates that were not realistic and it made it hard for us to plan for new projects.
When projects were completed the Afghans wouldn’t know how to maintain the new buildings and they would slowly fall into disrepair. We didn’t have the tools needed to address the issue of building maintenance and the Afghans didn’t understand what was needed because there really was no way to explain it. It was an issue throughout Afghanistan.
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
The people I met. I have 3 friends that I talk with regularly from the deployment. And we often say that all the bad stuff we had to deal with was worth the friendship we have today. Our lives have changed so much since we left Afghanistan, but we still keep in contact and actually will be meeting up in person this Spring.
And the friends I made that only lasted through the deployment hold a special place in my heart. I’m still connect with many of them through Facebook and social media.
Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
You don’t look like someone who was in the military? And often no questions come. It is likely because people don’t even know where to start.
If you want to read more of my deployment experience click here. And if you want to find out when about all things Airman to Mom ranging from when my deployment book will be release to new blog post updates. Sign up for my weekly update here.
Yesterday I shared about different types of deployments, tomorrow I will share the PRT experience from a friend who deployed with me. Same mission, same job, but a new unique perspective. I hope you come back tomorrow. And if you don’t want to miss any part of this series make sure you click here to sign up for my weekly newsletter.