Life on the FOB: Day 3 in Afghanistan
After a couple of days of taking care of some administrative work at the FOB I have finally gotten to my own work. I have been embedded with a British unit of combat advisers who work with the ANA. These guys have been great. I have been watching them work with ANA instructors who are trying to teach new ANA how to be infantry. To a newcomer, like me, watching the ANA is both shocking and sometimes nearly tragically hilarious. ANA officers and NCOs go around throwing rocks at their students when they make mistakes while shooting heavy guns on the live fire ranges. Others will kick the students for missing their targets or not sitting correctly at the .50 cals. The advisers don’t intervene at all, saying that to do so would mean the instructors loosing face in front of the students. Such a move would create angst among the instructors and make it harder for the advisers to do their job. Interestingly, the advisers invoke “culture” to dismiss intervening. To claim a act is “Afghan culture” is not simply to describe it (after all I had recruit training officers who threw rocks and brass at myself and students at the academy, purportedly to see how we would shoot under stress). Rather, by saying a behavior is “cultural” the advisers classify it as something that they ought not deal with. This suggests that labeling something as “other” or “cultural” may also be part of strategic moves to limit their own responsibility for training outcomes, which, as they will admit themselves, are extremely poor.
The Brits are a hilarious bunch. They have a Scotsman that they claim they can’t understand but I have not had much difficulty with. Most of the guys are pretty salty, many with 10+ prior deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Life on the FOB is sparse but certainly improved from what some of my friends have experienced in the past. Our forward cell has small, cell like units, for sleeping that have been made out of Conex containers. They have small air conditioners and one or two electrical outlets. The FOB also has its own “Golds” gym, in the way of some antiquated treadmills, a couple of ellipticals, an incline and decline bench and a full rack of weights. Its enough to get the job done.
Food isn’t too bad. Tends to be heavy on the fried foods and is served up by, I think, Russians. The salad bar consists of a chopped up head of iceberg lettuce and for accompaniment you can sprinkle some shredded cheese on it. Most of the army guys at the FOB complain that deployment is supposed to get you in shape but that with the DFAC at our FOB the only thing you are likely to do is get fat and slow.
I’m curious as to why you would position yourself with the british?
The simple answer is that they are the only ones locally available to me who have regular interactions with ANA. It is more an issue of convenience than anything else. In fact, the greatest difficulty in examining their interactions with Afghan nationals is that many of the advisers have 10+ years in the military and have spent multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast, etc. In other words, they are not novices at all but rather quite experienced in being in Afghanistan not to mention other regions of the world.
I’d be worried about the difference in British military culture from American, as well as a difference in experience and exposure levels. We all speak the same language, but brits play different games (similar LOAC, but different attitudes, and motivations.) I guess if you want to get some interaction with the ANA your options are limited. Stay safe!
The good news is that I am seeing Brits, New Zealanders, the French, and the Germans all doing similar jobs. So not only do I see a range of individual difference within each military I see the differences between them. The Brits are, on average, more experienced than many of the Americans I have met. Most are E8s and above, are training in areas that they train in their own militaries, have had 10+ years experience and 5+ combat tours (though they are 6 months in duration). The guys from New Zealand are incredibly laid back and don’t seem as phased as the other nations by seeing conduct that they don’t understand. Whether justified or not they also come of much more confident in their interaction and therefore seem to engage more and more in a bootstrapped manner. The Americans seem, well, less confident, too serious for their own good, and seem to be more easily frustrated. The British are closer to the Americans but some of them are extraordinarily competent in communicating and interacting with the ANA. I don’t have any staff here to support a more quantitative comparison so, obviously, my observations are partial and incomplete.
I think that it is good that you are able to identify the Multi-national differences. I have some USAF “Friends” training ANA to fly and operate cargo Aircraft. Would access to that sort of program help you in your mapping the Multi-national efforts to train the ANA? Do you think that it would provide you a valuable opportunity to see different levels of ANA skills and abilities? Or would it be more or less irrelevant to your current pursuit?
I’ve put in a request for organizational contact info, and as soon as I get a response I’d be happy to forward you the info if you think it would be helpful.
Sounds like a great connect. But I doubt that I would be able to get out to where your friends are. Hit me up offline so I can get location details and the like.