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?