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Did You Accomplish Anything Out There?

In earlier posts about my experience in Afghanistan, I answered the questions others asked me the most: What did you do out there? Were you scared? What was it like meeting with the locals?

Today’s question is not a question others have asked me, but one I have asked myself over and over since returning from deployment: Did I accomplish anything out there? What, specifically, was my legacy in Afghanistan?

I earned a Bronze Star Medal (for service), a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and 173rd Combat Patch; I earned the trust of my men and built relationships for life; I faced the possibility of death and the emotional turmoil that brings--all things I am proud of. But the question remains, did I leave a lasting positive in my wake?

When I patrolled the Korengal, achieving tactical victories was a struggle. We had a few minor accomplishments. As we started doing dismounted patrols, we found a 107-millimeter rocket on the side of the road probably a future IED. We also conducted a dismounted patrol that found an ambush site.

But when the rubber meets the road, my lasting accomplishments were achieved in Serkani District.  Mainly, we trained Afghanistan National Security Forces in Serkani, both the Army and the Police. Once we had trained, we then started building an intelligence and trust network with the local government.

For the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), we were not their primary trainers, but we partnered with them on every operation. Despite a rocky start, the Marine Embedded Tactical Trainers (anyone who knows me knows I am not the biggest fan of Marines but their trainers were amazingly flexible and resilient) and 4th Platoon taught our ANA Kandak (Pashtun for battalion) how to react quickly, to conduct traffic stops, and, most importantly, how not to accidentally discharge their weapons in our vicinity. 

The other key piece of the security forces was the police. My biggest accomplishment here--and this is the one I am most proud--was gaining their trust. I visited each checkpoint in Serkani at least once a week. I visited the checkpoint in Pashad, the most critical position, at least every three days. Mostly, we drank Chai. In typical Afghan police fashion, their stations would not start work until our convoy pulled up. We also continually urged them to report suspicious activity to us if they couldn’t handle it (which they couldn’t).

While training the ANA and developing the Afghan Police, I also worked to expand the reach of the district sub-governor Mustafa Khan. To gain his trust I offered to take him wherever he needed to go. This approach had definite drawbacks as it showed him reliant on the US. But, as a result of our many patrols, he visited villages and represented the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in places that had never seen the government. We also always included both the ANA and Afghan police so every patrol seemed like a joint patrol, even if our US forces were probably the glue enabling it to occur.

When I came back from the Afghanistan, I generally believed I had accomplished something; I earned the trust of the locals. I am proud of what I accomplished but I still wonder, could I have done more?

ten comments

You forgot the part about bolstering your savings and getting set for retirement…

But good question – one that too few people ask themselves…one that too few commanders ask ahead of time (what do I want to accomplish here?).

Yeah focusing on retirement usually is the most important part of deployment. And, if you don’t leave the wire, finishing a secondary degree. And salsa night if you are at BAF.

Don’t knock salsa night. The pool at Balad rocked too. Oh, and you have to love it when the gate guards take pictures of you leaving the wire because your vehicles look cool.

I tried writing what I tought I accomplished – but it doesn’t quite fit with your post – distracting.

I wrote a long elaborate response to this last night, but I think it got deleted somehow.

In the end my opinion was summed up in this: While you probably did your best with the situation you were given, whether you made an impact or not isn´t going to be up to you. The future of Afghanistan ultimately lies in the hands of the people of Afghanistan, for better or for worse. All you can do is be there to give them a hand or stand in their way. If those police you trained don´t develop good habits and a work ethic in the long run than all your efforts don´t amount to anything in the long run. Be pateient, keep your sanity and just don´t turn into this guy:


Chris, sorry your post didn’t make it up. I’ll check with the webmaster to see what is going on.

Yeah, the guy in the youtube video is a tool bag. He doesn’t understand how to work with Arabs and that the point is to help them with their country not them help you.

That Youtube video was ridiculous. Just ridiculous. That’s seems like the wrong way to motivate your allies. Most of his assertions were fallacy. Obviously, we don’t see too many Iraqi forces in America patrolling the streets. And of course, there will be some Iraqi police with ties to insurgents. But consider also that by becoming police officers they endanger themselves and their families because the militants consider them traitors to their country and region by allying with the US. Not to mention Iraqi police casualties trump Coalition casualties (7488 since 2005 compared to 4700 since 2003 according to icasualties.org)

Michael, as far as your legacy, I’m curious to wonder how deep an impact you made. How long will that trust last? Will the manner in which you acted and earned trust be maintained by those who followed you? Will those you showed respect for continued to be shown respect and will their children grow to value Americans as their allies?

I’ve seen that video before and it pisses me off. I mean, some tough love is good, but the guy doesn’t get it.

I believe that video came out sometime last year when the Iraqi government tried cleaning up Basra and a chunk of the Iraqi Army and Police including some officers deserted to the Mahdi Army or refused to carry out operations aginst them. I do hear the Iraqi Army and Police have come a long way since then and I´m wondering how that went. I think the hope and realization that the Americans might leave when they stepped up to the plate might have motivated them to a large degree. There are however reports of them being used against political opponents of al-Maliki and of course widespread corruption (to be fair though there is corruption in the police forces of several countries in the middle east).

Honestly what I see when I look at this video is an old 1SG or CSM finished with his nerves. My old 1SG was like this, as were some of my drill sergeants. There are simply people like this in the military, and to some degree the military believes it requires people like this to shape 20 year olds into disciplined and highly obedient soldiers. Now you can´t train the Iraqi Army or Police the same way you train kids in Basic Training (especially in a culture that has a whole entire different concept of masculinity), and it probably didn´t start out that way, but after seeing laziness, trauncy, deception etc. in his previous way of doing business he probably fell back on what he knew (I would bet he is an ex-drill sergeant) and how he had trained and motivated US soldiers hoping to expect the same results. In all actuality he probably just ended up insulting them and creating a larger gulf between his unit and this IP unit at a time when the US military and insurgents were actually competing for influence inside the Iraqi Police Force. I don´t hate the guy for it, he is definitely a frustrated hammer.

Matt- The question about how long my legacy will last is important. It will fade depending on how well my counterpart and the company that took over my AO works. But, the best strategy is a long term one, not a short term one. It is a shame soldiers don’t stay in areas longer than they do.

Mike, I completely agree. Further, I’m curious as to how much interaction and debriefing you had with you’re replacements.