Wednesday, September 30, 2009
We had our Afghan Police Medical Director and his Quartermaster come to visit us today. As always we made some progress on several issues and learned more about each other and the system that we each work with. We were lucky enough to have two interpreters present today. The second interpreter did not really contribute to the conversation at all, but our interpreter did admit afterwards that he felt like he did a much better job today since he knew another interpreter was listening. A little competition can be a good thing.
There are several categories of Interpreters employed by the Department of Defense. Category I are local nationals like our team interpreter. They are usually hired through an Afghan contractor. They get paid monthly for their services and some extra money for going out on missions with us off the Camp. I dare say this extra money does not adequately compensate them for the potential danger they face. If you read the news headlines closely you will find the names of many interpreters among the wounded or killed in battle reports. Since they are targets for insurgents many interpreters work in areas that are not their home provinces. They also use names which are not their real names, so that they and their families cannot be tracked down easily. Many interpreters live in areas adjacent to Camps or FOBs, although a few continue to live locally with their families and commute. While there are many interpreters who perform their services for noble reasons, the main reason is the money. A US employed interpreter can make much more than a doctor, teacher, and most officers in the Afghan Security Forces. Many interpreters are doctors, engineers and teachers. They simply make much more money working as interpreters. Money which supports large extended families from this one paycheck. More concerning is that after one to two years of service interpreters can apply for a US entrance visa, leading to a further 'brain drain' of this countries best and brightest minds. Most of the interpreters you hear about in Afghanistan are category I interpreters.
Category II and III interpreters are US citizens. They have to be fluent in both English and Dari and/or Pashto. Additionally they have to have security clearances commensurate with the information they are processing. Although it is a little old, I would recommend a quick read on this article from the Stars and Stripes on Interpreters. There were problems this summer when older physically unfit interpreters were sent with Marine units. A starting salary of $210,000 a year is very enticing though. http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=63855
All that aside our interpreter is an integral part of our team. He has been with the mission for almost two years. He knows what has worked well in the past and what has failed. He knows who in the Afghan heirarchy can get things done and where to get needed supplies on the economy. The bottom line is that without him our words here mean nothing.
Our interpreter is also my malem- or teacher. I have asked him to help me with my Dari. At first we were just working on a phrase a day, but I quickly forgot these if I did not write them down. For the past two weeks or so we have been working our way through the Dari alphabet. We work on one letter a day(there are 34). He and I write down 10-20 words in Dari script and their meaning. Now I can read some of the dari signs and food or drink packages. He recently gave me a written test of 100 questions. I scored a 92, but he admits he made it pretty easy fearing that I would fail horribly. It is still a good productive thing to do daily in addition to office work and exercise. I enjoy learning more about Dari, Afghanistan and its culture every day as we have our lesson.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Clearing barrels are placed at the Camp entry control points. They are usually 55 gallon drums filled with sand or small pebbles. Their purpose is to provide a safe direction to point a weapon to ensure weapons are in the safe and unloaded condition prior to going on board the camp. Obviously not everyone understands the steps to make a clear and safe weapon.
There are as many sets of instructions how to safely clear a weapon as their are weapons systems, but for the most part they all have these common steps. It is generally done with a buddy, sentry or leader to supervise the procedure:
Step 1- Point Weapon into the clearing barrel.
Step 2- Ensure the safety is ON.
Step 3- Remove ammunition belt or magazine
Step 4- Open the bolt to inspect and ensure no rounds are in the chamber of the weapon
Step 5- Place weapon on FIRE and fire into the barrel to further prove the weapon is clear.
As you can see the clearing barrel in the photo has two small accessory holes. These customized extra holes are proof that some folks do the 'readers digest version' and take safety off and pull trigger. The other clearing barrel has 5 extra holes in it. Thankfully nobody has been injured so far. I am proud to say that since I have been here I am not aware of any incidents among US military personnel. Nonetheless this is a situation that demands due diligence and attention to detail.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I have seen these three fine Sailors perform their duties with the ANA hospital mentoring team. The Navy did very well in promoting them to Chief Petty Officer. They are now charged with the duties of teaching and mentoring enlisted sailors, carrying out the tasks of the Navy, and teaching the junior officers they will work alongside. Hail to the Chiefs!
Friday, September 11, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Our bazaar on Camp Shaheen is not necessarily like the model bazaar. It is a group of tarps and tables with various stuff for sale and occurs every other week or so. The sellers of carpets, wooden boxes and jewelry are regulars. Of course there are the knock off brand electronics, movies, and sunglasses familiar to any servicemember for sale as well.
The hardest part is the price negotiation. If I were buying something that I was remotely familiar with, such as a toothbrush, I would have an idea where to start the process. But I really have no idea what Afghan goods go for around here. If I become too frustrating, the shopkeeper usually has me just name some price. I usually try to start with an amount which is low, but not insultingly low. I would guess that I am still not starting low enough though. By the time it is over I feel like I must have gotten a good deal, but then the shopkeeper smiles a very big smile when we conclude the purchase. It really makes me think I have been taken to the cleaners. That and they usually throw in something free at the end. Perhaps they just want to make sure I am a loyal customer and will come back to them next time?
There are some who stay away from the Bazaar and prefer to spend money on stuff at the limited exchange on base. I know from experience that part of our job here is to spread our wealth around the world and stimulate their economy. It is also a nice break from the monotony of life on camp.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
There are no leaves to change color. There is no musty damp smell of decay. But Autumn is approaching. The view of the mountains to the south is clear and crisp. The high temperature has been BELOW 100 degrees F for several days this past week. There have been regular sightings of wispy clouds.
I still hold out hope that their may be some rain sooner or later. I have yet to see one drop fall from the sky after 2 months.
Nonetheless my observations support the coming of Autumn.
We of the US Military abhor corruption. Bribes, kickbacks, skimming things off the inventory; these are things that we simply do not do or tolerate. Sadly there are politicians and other leaders in the US who do not share this standard of conduct. I think I am safe in declaring that almost every citizen of the US would put corruption in the BAD category.
Having been in more than a few foreign countries I would like to expand your perspective.
We are treated well by our Government. If I am asked to go to city X and stay Y number of days, the Government is kind enough to provide transportation, a place to sleep, a way to get food or reimbursement for all of the above. If I need equipment or personnel to carry out my duties, the Government provides the needed things or funds so that I can accomplish my tasks. US Government employees or military members are almost never assigned to do things without any tools or funding.
Well that is simply not the way things work here in Afghanistan. Imagine you were told to personally fund a trip to go pick up government supplies, which may take several days. You are not given any money to accomplish this trip. You are responsible for finding and paying for your own food, lodging and transportation. This is the framework for a system which is not taking care of its people. This is a system which is ripe for 'corruption.' Many times corruption is the word we apply when the system ignores or abuses its people. I have found after visiting several countries that while there are those who wish to individually profit from position, there are many people who are just trying to get things done, including taking care of their subordinates. It is no wonder that there are those who request suspicious amounts of supplies. For some loyal and otherwise straightforward officers, this is the only recourse they have to "reimburse" themselves or their troops for personal expenses they must pay while performing their official duties.
Yes, Corruption is Bad. But you need to ask the question Chirra or Why before you pass judgement on the actions of an individual, when it is a system flaw in many instances.
So for those who would condemn the Afghan people, or any other people for blatant corruption I would say that you would need to:
1. Walk a mile in their shoes.
2. Be a citizen of a country free from this sin, before we cast the first stone.