No, this is not a new blockbuster movie called "400". (For those who did not see it, there was a movie last year called "300" with lots of cool fighting). This is actually the number of days I have been away from home. For many of us here, we have several other names for this thing called deployment. Here are just a few of the more clever ones (or maybe not so clever ones):
400 days of the Afghanistan Hostage Crisis
400 days of exile
400 days of our prison term (this is followed by the number of days left until parole)
400 days of Groundhogs day (more so we just call every day Groundhog day)
400 days alcohol free (OK so there were a few breaks in there with leave and pass, but you get the idea)
Now that is not very positive, although slightly humorous. You have to keep your sense of humor. Perhaps with the end so near, I have some other emotions bubbling out of me. I don't think so, it just seemed appropriate to give you an idea of what some people are thinking here. After being in theater for so long, I have seen people come and people go. I find it extremely interesting to watch people as they go through a personality transformation. From what I have observed, people go through four phases during a one year deployment. Now I am not a psychologist or anything, just a student of people's behavior, and it is truly interesting how people change.
The first phase is when people arrive. They are enthusiastic about their opportunity to serve and do some good for the people of Afghanistan. It is lovely to watch as people have incredibly ambitious thoughts as they see all the many opportunities for improvement here. They slowly see all the things that are "wrong" with how everything operates and vow to fix it all. In some respects it is sad, because they could not see what came before... and where it was... and the past progress that was made to get it to this point. This phase lasts about 3 months and is marked by an incredible generosity from the military people. They will give everything to the Afghans. They always say "yes" to all request that comes from the Afghans. Believe me, the Afghan people are more than willing to let you do everything for them... but that is not why we are here. This is their country and our mission is to make them self-sufficient and successful. It really does follow the old saying, "Catch a fish for a man and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for the rest of his life."
The second phase begins when the individual starts to realize he might be getting taken advantage of... but is not sure. S/he also realizes, this is not the United States. All things that seem so simple, obvious, common and easy are not easy in Afghanistan. S/he starts to realize what I call TIA (This Is Afghanistan). Nothing is easy, you must have incredible patience, and realize that things will take longer than expected no matter how hard you push. Of course some continue to push very hard, with the end result that the US military makes "it" happen despite the Afghans. But what purpose has that served? We all know the US military could completely run everything, and I am sure it would work just fine... and we would be here forever. We would not have improved the country of Afghanistan or the plight of its people. Soon enough people do "get" the real reason or purpose for what we are doing here. They begin to say no and say, "let the Afghans do it for themselves." Things progress and our subject has learned patience and instead of always doing, s/he teaches and is truly making a difference for the people of Afhganistan. This phase generally lasts for about 6 months and is marked by a sense of calm, instead of a frantic reaction to every demand that comes his way.
The third phase begins when the individual has been here a good 9 months and is starting to get tired and burned out. His/her patience is waning and it is difficult to stay calm when the demands keep coming. This phase last about 2 months and is marked by some relatively angry behavior that is almost spiteful. I have seen some people become beligerant toward the Afghans and say forget them, I am not giving them anything else. There is a feeling that s/he has given so much and they just keep wanting more... and there is so much left to do. The individual is counting the days until they can leave and return to their normal way of life.
The fourth and final phase here is the last month when the individual realizes his time is short and has started to transition duties and see relief in sight. There is excitement and general happiness about completing this tough assignment. There is a small amount of remorse or regret for things they never got to finish, and the loss of being part of something so big. I think they get over that, when they get home. At least I hope I will...
I have often likened working with the Afghans as dealing with spoiled kids. They are not bad people, but the US has spoiled them. We gave them everything because we felt sorry for them... and they became spoiled. They were trained to keep asking for more because we just kept giving them more. We did not have expectations for them, and there were no consequences for bad behavior. I am sure if Nanny 911 was here, she would recognize it right away. (Not that I watch that show, it just fit).
I believe part of what the military must continue to do is prepare people mentally for this adventure. Deployed military personnel must realize they cannot do it all, and their goal is to carry the "baton" and move the race forward as best they can... and then pass it smoothly to the next person. They must have a long term view of their duties and not merely try and finish their year. This is a third world country with history and customs far different than what we Americans are accustomed. This is worthwhile work and all the people that have come over here have done their part to make a difference for Afghanistan. It would be great to see something like a time lapse photography of the progress in Afghanistan. That would really put everything in perspective. Perhaps I should come back again in a couple years so I can see the continued progress here, NOT!
Back on the homefront, Madigan has now lost both of her front teeth. I am sure they fell out naturally, but she could certainly pass for someone who had been in a bar brawl and had her teeth knocked out. She is playing softball and having a great time, but she looks more like a hockey player. Thomas entered the school inventors fair this past week. His invention/presentation was on an automatic shoe tying machine. I suppose that could be useful especially if you don't like bending over to tie your shoes. I don't think he won a college scholarship or even a savings bond... and I am not sure we will be making millions on marketing it, but it certainly was creative. I can't even recall if I ever did a science fair project as a child, but I am sure if I did it was something lame like a portable talking device with built in camera and organizer. Hey wait a minute, I think I invented the cell phone over 30 years ago and didn't realize it.
Peace to you all,