My friend Katie* deployed with me to Afghanistan as part of the Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). We met through our deployment and are still friends today. I love hearing her perspective because even though we deployed to the same place and the same mission (Kapisa PRT) we have a different perspective and share different stories. You can go back to Day 4 and read my perspective.
Rank during deployment:
Branch of Service:
Current rank/current job if you have left the military:
Stay at home mom
Where did you deploy to?
What was you or your team’s mission?
Provincial Reconstruction Team – encouraging Afghan rule of law through efforts using MOOTWA (Military Operations Other Than War). Construction projects bolstered local infrastructure and supported local authorities.
What was your job as part of Kapisa PRT?
Civil Engineer, project manager, we helped set up projects and then manage them through site visits, meetings and various samples provided. We also worked the process to ensure the contractor got paid when they met certain benchmarks set forth by the contract.
Can you explain what a site visit is and why they are important?
Site visits involved us going to each construction project to observe the contractor’s progress and quality. They were done on a periodic basis to try and keep the estimated completion time on schedule as well as verifying that the contractor had completed the required amount of progress in order to get paid.
What cultural differences do you remember between Afghanistan and the United States?
Delays in meeting construction milestones were a constant issue. Nothing ever finished on time. The Afghan contractors seemed to accept this with little annoyance which was frustrating and came off as lackadaisical. However, to them, it was ‘God’s Will’, a natural part of life and missing strict deadlines was not seen as the end of the world.
What landscape differences do you remember between Afghanistan and the United States?
Greenery only in the bottom of the valleys. It was strange to see the high mountains and no vegetation growing on them.
Were there any particular foods that you ate while in Afghanistan that was different from the United States?
Baked fish with bones in them. Goat, spine and knuckles still intact. That mysterious French meat that made the entire team sick for two days. Jalal (sp?) nuts were delicious. Meals in groups were done family style, but Nan (bread) was used instead of personal plates.
As a female, do you remember being treated differently because of your sex?
The only thing that really sticks out in my mind was one visit to a village where one of our interpreters invited the women and children nearby to talk to me. They were afraid to talk to me because they were not sure I was a woman. Overall, I can’t recall any drastic difference.
What challenges did you face?
Dealing with leadership that was not involved enough and then berated the team about not accomplishing more projects. They still didn’t back down from their position even after being informed that by law we were limited to the number of projects we were allowed to have active.
Also, the food rationing when the new cook came to the team. Epic morale killer when informing folks they are limited the number of French fries they can have.
What sort of laws were in place that limited the amount of projects?
MAAWS-A (Money as a Weapon System- Afghanistan) was our biggest limiting factor. The teams before us didn’t have a limitation on the number of on-going projects, which means that when we arrived there was a lot going on all at once. Shortly before our arrival a new rule was set in place that limited the number of open projects, I think it was twenty. Since we were already over our limit from projects that were grandfathered in, we couldn’t create any new ones until some of the older ones were completed. This hindered our ability to do even small jobs that would have helped with newly developed issues/problems.
Did you have any regular frustrating situations or a frustrating situation you can share about?
Had to fire a civilian sent to us by the Army Corps of Engineers. He wanted to strap on a gun and go shooting things up. He was not trained and never issued a weapon and was pissed when I told the Army unit to refuse him a firearm. When I told, him I wanted him to leave, he got mad and declared that he was leaving us. Either way, he left and we were all better for it.
That sounds super frustrating. You say civilian from Army Corp of Engineers, I know most people don’t think of civilians serving overseas? Were there other civilians on the Kapisa PRT or that you interacted with?
There was Department of State, United States Agency for International Development and Department of Agriculture, one person for each agency. I only went on one mission with the Department of State guy and that mission was cut short when we came under attack in Tagab. I know he was frustrated because the French were in charge of the mission and undercut his attempts to deal with the district governor.
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
Meeting good people and having a better understanding of the situation [going on] in Afghanistan.
What do you mean by better understand? For me, it was understanding the good people trying to live a normal life mixed in with the bad. What about you?
In my opinion, they could benefit from cowboys. They want justice and the current system that is in place is too corrupt for them to trust. They leaned to the Taliban because they were an entity that promised justice for the price of a few extra rules. It was worth it to avoid a situation of lawlessness. An example of an Afghan cowboy was Kahn Daga. He was local, honest, and punished people taking advantage of others. It’s similar to the phrase, actions speak louder than words. The national leadership is nothing but words to the outlying areas. It’s the people who actually act on their words, whether cowboy or Taliban, that set the rules for the land.
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
No one really asks me about it. Probably “what did you do there?” and that’s the end of it.
This is Day 4 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. To start at the beginning click here. Yesterday I shared my experience of being deployed on a PRT. Tomorrow I will share about Manas Transit Center. Kyrgyzstan. Don’t miss a single post. Sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
*Name changed for privacy