Future Tech Jobs: We Need Social Science Graduates – Rawn Shah – Connected Business – Forbes

Future Tech Jobs: We Need Social Science Graduates – Rawn Shah – Connected Business – Forbes.


While this article is certainly not how I would define the importance of sociologists to the future job markets, it least it is something on the topic in Forbes. Certainly, sociologists bring more to the table than social network analysis or the study of facial expressions (which is more the domain of psychology). But the article does address the issue of career trajectories.

What does the draw down mean for service members?


“Dwelling on Dwell Time

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — “It must feel great to be back in the States, right?” I get this question all the time from friends who haven’t seen me since I got back from Afghanistan last December.

It seems like a simple enough question. Yes, it’s great to be around all the things that you are deprived of in Afghanistan: women, alcohol, not having everything you own covered in dust and sand. But the truth is that after six months of recuperation and rest, I’m ready to go back. Needless to say, my friends have quite the look of incredulity on their faces when I say that.

Going Vagabond

The vehicle that will be transporting between field sites


Preparing for the next bought of fieldwork—this time domestically as a ronin sociologist-program manager. Instead of up-armored vehicles in the Stan, I will be riding my Honda Shadow to my new field-sites.  Next week off to Cali and Washington to finalize field-sites and begin the next vagabond journey into the world of  “tact and tactics.”

A Methodological Policy?

While I was in Afghanistan I came across two statements that I thought made  for good research policies while trying to understand social action:

“One should take the doer back into the deed after having conceptually removed the doer and thus emptied the deed. … one should take doing something, the ‘aim,’ the ‘intention,’ the ‘purpose,’ back into the deed after having artificially removed all this and thus emptied the deed” (Nietzche, Will to Power).

– and –

“I have accepted that it is right to say that the condition of generating descriptions of social activity is being able in principle to participate in it. It invovles ‘mutual knowledge,’ shared by observer and participants whose action constitutes and reconstitutes the social world” (Giddens, Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory, p. 15).

If  you want to understand how people do cross-cultural interactions, why not look at how they do them, understand how such interactions are accomplished in their own right, see if you can acquire the ability to perform in a similar manner. Then maybe its fair to say that you understand, in an adequate manner, the phenomenon.

Life on the FOB – Afghanistan Day 34 , The “PT Rebellion”

The 2IC and a Color SGT discuss the closing of the HMG range.

As I head out the door, 0728 hours,  to meet up with the Brits, a colleague of mine shouts out, “Osama is dead!” All I can say is “What?” “Yeah he is dead, I just got woken up by my cell ringing. My brother says he’s dead.” My colleague can’t tell me how or whether their is any official statement, so I push out the gate and link up with the Brits by our vehicles.  I see Smudge, one of my friends loading up a vehicle with ‘kit’ and I mumble, “I heard Osama is dead. You hear anything?” Smudge, SGT U. and CPT H. are all standing nearby, all say they have heard nothing about Osama. We load up and go on as if nothing has happened.

At the “cottage” someone asks CPT M. if he has heard whether or not Osama bin Laden is dead. “Someone said they heard it just now on BBC when I called back [to the infantry advisers office]. Don’t know anything else. Guess it could be true.” And so we go on with our day, not really knowing whether or not Osama is dead, and, I guess, it doesn’t really matter given practical challenges everyone is immediately confronted with.

The problems start almost immediately, so there isn’t time to reflect on the meaning or impact or even the veracity of the claim that Osama is dead. I am with the .50 cal heavy machine gun (HMG) course today. The problem seems to be that the Ministry of Defense has closed down all heavy weapons because they worry that the sound of grenades, RPGs, and the SPG-9 will get an already jumpy military to mistakenly engage with ANA that are simply out and about training. The spring “tet offensive”, as some call it, has the various garrisons on high alert and the security forces are out in force.

To the advisers, heavy weapons invovles some kind of ordinance, but it does not include the HMG.  Unfortunately, for the advisers, while they had planned not to do RPGs and SPG-9, they had planned on doing live fire exercises with the HMG. The ANA at the garrison have interpreted the order from MOD to mean that the HMG cannot be fired. They say, “it is a ‘heavy’ weapon because it has the word ‘heavy’ in it.” The British advisers take pains to try and explain that the weapon should not be classified as a heavy weapon simply  because it is called a “heavy machine gun.” That is not what MOD or the Brits mean by “heavy weapons.” “Heavy weapons” are explosives. However, the garrison staff does not see it that way. The lead adviser to the HMG course goes and speaks to the 2IC (abbreviation for Second in Charge). They brainstorm options like calling ISAF and MOD but in the end the 2IC says, “bottom line is, even if we get a letter from MOD it will be to late. The letter will only get us on the range tomorrow so we still have to figure out what to do today.” CSGT B. decides the best course of action is to try and do “range cards” on the dry fire range. I go with CSGT B. and a Gurka sergeant, SGT M., to one of the ANA officers offices. CSGT B. convinces the ANA officer to let him take the ANA students out to the dry fire range to fire.

Infantry Advisers plan their movement

We load up a Toyota pick up with several HMGs, and a couple of ANA and we roll out to the range…and wait…and wait.

An ANA student starts to set up a .50 cal machine gun

About half an hour later, the ANA instructors and ANA students finally appear SGT N. watches as the ANA students unload the .50 cals from the back of his pickup truck. “They aren’t very big you know. You don’t see any really fat ANA guys. Its diet. Not like the PT [physical training].” I remarks, “I would guess, that given the ANA don’t show up most days on time that there would be a bit of resistance to PT.” SGT N. says, “You can call it that! One of the chiefs tried implementing PT a couple of months before you got here. It was a full on PT rebellion. The Chief made everyone come in early, like 6 o’clock. He and a couple other guys ended up, pistols out, hiding behind one of the burnt out Russian tanks. The ANA students, they were throwing rocks and whatever else they could get their hands on. The guys thought they were going to get overrun and were ready to start shooting. They’re lucky it didn’t turn into a bloody mess. That’s why I don’t know why they are planning to try it again. The ANA won’t have it. They’ll just revolt again! Their daft! They want to do  PT at 0500. It’ll never work!”

An adviser sits in the bunker and drinks water to beat the heat.

SGT N. tells me that he has been lucky his ANA instructors. He points at a couple of them who are off helping the ANA students lug their heavy machine guns into place.  “See these guys we can advise. They show up, they listen, and they teach. Some of them are just lazy bastards though. They don’t show up and they don’t ever listen to you.” No sooner is SGT N. done crooning about his HMG instructors than SGT M., a short, sturdy Gurka, comes walking down the hill. He has been doing range cards with the ANA up atop another hill comes down shaking his head. “They don’t understand range cards. They draw their emplacements and then draw trenches! But they aren’t going to be digging any trenches. This isn’t the Soviet army! I tell them this and the instructor tells me, ‘how are we to get ammunition between the HMGs?’ I tell you can walk it. That’s why you have to do a range card and set up sectors of fire so you can use cover fire to allow movement, and communications. But the instructor, he just wants to teach that they will dig trenches. But they never dig trenches! That’s not this war!”

We stand and watch as the ANA practice crawling and dragging the HMGs up and down hills to practice tactical set ups. Soon it is time for the ANA to break for lunch. They disassemble the HMG and begin walking back. And then, SGT N. notices one of the squads, “Are they skipping?” I turn and look and sure enough, half of a squad is skipping down the kill. Several others are on their cell phones. Two are holding hands, common among men here, their arms swinging back and forth as they trot down the hill. SGT N. says, “They look old. They have wrinkles and beards but they really are still kids. You forget that sometimes. They are just peasant kids who can’t read. Its a hard here,  they look 10 years older than they are. Its like using meth [methamphetamine]. Look at ’em We have to make them into soldiers. But they still are here skipping down the side of the hill like this is a game.  Down south they will learn the hard way that it won’t be a game. No more standing up and walking with your HMG. Once the lead starts coming they will understand why you have to crawl.”

And so, Osama bin Laden is killed, the roads here are “black,” the threat from insurgents as well as within the ANA and ANP all remain. It remains hot, dusty, and the advisers must plod on, nonetheless. Back at the DFAC or “chow hall” the contrast between the scenes on television back home in the US of A and the scene at chow is stark. Whereas the images of folks back in DC are that of celebration the chow how is largely mute. Groups of soldiers sit together as usual exchanging the normal witty ripostes, the occasional acknowledgment that “the fucker is dead,” and how cool it would have  been to be part of the “op.” But,  no high fives. No celebration. Just tired soldiers ready for “scoff,” and looking forward to a few hours of R&R ( a movie if lucky), a phone call home to loved ones, and, if lucky, a solid nights sleep before getting up to start the daily grind all over again.

Life on the FOB – Day 32 in Afghanistan: “They jus’ turn rounds into cassings.”

Its 0730 when the infantry advisers start tossing their gear into their vehicles and making the 1k drive to the ANA base. The FOB requires that every vehicle be “ground guided”, i.e. someone has to walk in front of the vehicle until exiting the FOB. The general rule of thumb is that members of a vehicle take turns ground guiding. It is my turn so today I am walking ahead of the vehicle when another of the white, dusty, Toyota Land Cruisers drives alongside me.  SGT U., from New Zealand, pokes his head out of the vehicle, waves, smiles and shouts, “G’day Brian! You know the word of the day?” “No, you mean the challenge word?” “Nah, mate,” SGT U. continues, “Its, ‘Don’t let the Afghan’s wear ya down,’ bro! Have a good’un!” And SGT U. speeds past and leaves me in a cloud  of dust.” At the time I had thought, “wonder why he says that.” But it was something of a sign of the day to come.  The down turned heads of the advisers seemed to define the days comportment. High heat, disorganized ANA, missing equipment, denied access, uncooperative instructors, late starts, partial finishes: these things seemed to define the day.

When we get to the “cottage”  it appears, at first that all will go well. There is ammunition for the students and the students are on time and have already headed out to the range with their ANA instructors. SGT P., CPT H., and I pile into a Toyota with one of the “terps”, named Skinny. Skinny is not very skinny, but he is not too overweight either. He is one of the more Americanized Afghan interpreters and he tells me, “I’ve been working with the Americans for years so I picked up some of the lingo.”

With the recent celebration of the Russians leaving Afghanistan, the threats of an upcoming Taliban “Tet Offensive,” everyone is anxious about security. That means concern for the safety of the interpreters. Typically the interpreters refuse to where body armor. Today, the combat advisers tell Skinny that if he wants to work today he has to wear body armor, especially because live ammunition will be involved in the training. Skinny usually dresses in a dapper manner. So he complains bitterly about how the body armor makes him look. An adviser jokes, “come on Skinny, not like your cruising for a date!”  Skinny reluctantly puts on the body armor. But because he is not skinny, he has some difficulty reaching around and adjusting the armor so that it fights right. CPT H. ends up having to tug and lurch Skinny around until he can get the armor situated properly. CPT H. slaps Skinny on the back after sucess is reached, only to realize that Skinny is only wearing soft armor. “Where are the plates?” CPT H. asks. No one knows. CPT H. searches through the vehicles for the plates. Skinny finally says, “Fuck the plates, man. Its hot.” SGT P. says, “At least it will stop shrapnel. Better than nothing. Lets go!”

An adviser assists an interpreter with properly wearing body armor.

We head out to the  25m range and immediately encounter a problem. The Personal Security Detail instructors are out on the 25m range with their students. There is another range next to it, but it looks unused. CPT Y., the ANA officer in charge of the group to be trained today, comes down from the 25m range to speak with us. CPT Y. tells us we can’t use the range because it has already been booked. SGT P. frowns and says, to CPT Y. via Skinny, “Yeah, but you were supposed to book this range for us. Its on the POI [program of instruction].” CPT Y. says something and Skinny says, “He says the infantry advisers are supposed to book the ranges. I don’t know, he’s crazy. I think he’s just lazy.” Skinny then steps over towards me and whispers, “later when he is gone I will tell you about him. He’s crazy. I don’t like him much.”

SGT P. and CPT Y. get into an argument about the procedures for booking the range. But what is already apparent is that the PSD team is training and we likely will not get them thrown off the range. So SGT P. calls up the range master, another captain, and asks him to respond to our locations so that we can hash out why we have 40 students sitting idle in the back of an International Truck when they should be learning how to group shots on the 25m range.

The Range Master arrives and steps out of his pickup with a piece of paper in his right hand. He walks over to SGT P., Skinny, CPT Y. and a couple of ANA sergeants who have gathered around us. In perfect ANA form he asks SGT P., “Do you have your range form?”  SGT P. argues with the Range Master that it is not the responsiblity of the advisers to book ranges and that the forms are irrelevant since the POIs are approved by COL Z., the garrison commander, and the POI dictates when the infantry school gets the range. The Range Masters calmly and quietly asks SGT P., again, “do you have a range form?” SGT P. turns red, and quietly says, “No.” The Range Master just shrugs his shoulders, pats SGT P. gently on the shoulder and says, through Skinny, “I can do nothing. But, for you. For today. I will let you go to the 100 m range. But tomorrow I need the form.” SGT P. thanks the Range Master, and grumbles to me and CPT H., “Fucking form. They don’t need it! This is the first time they have asked for it and its only because they let it get double booked and they don’t want to fix it or take responsibility.” The Range Master, even though he doesn’t speak English, seems to understand that SGT P. is rather pissed off. He walks back over to SGT P. and says, in very broken English, “You come, sit down, have tea, we talk.” SGT P. thanks the Range Master and waves at all of us to load up into the Toyota. As we get into the vehicle, CPT Y. comes over and says to Skinny, “You need to give us targets.” SGT P., says, “Its not our job to give you targets. Why don’t you have targets.” Skinny asks CPT Y. and CPT Y. reiterates, “We have no targets, you must give us targets.”  SGT P., exhasperated, says, “We don’t have targets for you. Can you just get some white paper?” CPT Y replies, “But there is not target on the paper.” SGT P. says, “You have markers, right? You can just draw some “x’s” on them so the students have someting to group around. That is all you need.” CPT Y. frowns, “We need paper.”

SGT P. is clearly angry. I ask him how he manages his temper and he says, “Well it does no good if I shout or get pissed at these guys. They know I can’t do anything.” Another adviser, SGT M. had told me something several days prior on the sharpshooter course.  “Years ago I would have gotten mad. I used to have some real anger management issues and I got some counseling. Now, when some little shit like this gets on my nerves, I just push it aside. Getting angry won’t make him a better soldier and if I go off on him all its likely to do is make him more of a threat. It pisses me off but I just brush it off.”

We head back to the “cottage” and start making phone calls to try and locate targets. None can be found. We try to find paper. None can be found. So we head up to the 100 m range to join the instructors and students. They are already shooting… at blank pieces of wood. SGT P. sighs,  ” They jus’ turn’n rounds into cassings. They have nothing to target so they can’t group. They can’t cover up the last guys shots so you can’t tell which holes are yours and which are the other guys. They are just shooting to shoot. Guess its familiarization.”

SGT P. observes movement along a ridge line where insurgents had recently attacked from.

Since we are on the 100m range the advisers constantly have their heads on a swivel. “Encounters” with shooters had become more frequent, and though none of the shots fired were in any danger of hurting ANA or otherwise, the rash of shootings of advisers and killings of ANA in the recent week were enough to keep everyone “frosty.” CPT H. and SGT P both stood with rifles raised, to use their scopes to scan a low ridge, after  CPT H. spotted the movement of two distant figures on a low rising ridge, just at the edge of shooting range and in the general direction of where shots had been fired in the past. The advisers decided that figures were too far away to worry about, but periodically they re-checked the area to see if anyone moved up closer.

As we watch the instructors “teach” grouping, largely by shouting at and/or kicking their students, CPT H. observes that an increasing number of goats are surrounding us. Several minutes later, two goat herders from a nearby village pop up over a draw. CPT H. turns to me and says, Goat herders. Huh. Think I’ll go have a chat.” As he starts walking over, Skinny runs after him, “Water, water. Take some water bottles with you. They won’t have any.”  CPT H. stops by the Toyota and grabs a couple bottles of water. But as he starts back toward the herders, the ANA captain, CPT Y. intercepts. CPT H. briefly talks to CPT Y. about the lack of targets. He asks him about a pile of what appears to be discarded wood behind the cottage. “Do you think, maybe, you could the scraps to build frames for targets? You know, so something like today is prevented?” CPT Y. seems uninterested. “No. That belongs to the S4 [logistics]. Impossible. We have no nails.” Then in what caught CPT H., Skinny and I by suprise, he says via Skinnhy, “Give me a water.” He sticks out his hand, palm up, fingers waving toward us–  what looks like an impatient gesture. Skinny turns to me and says, “That’s what he said. He is rude!” CPT H. explains the water is for the herders. CPT Y. looks briefly at the herders and simply says, “Water” with his hand outstretched and waiting. CPT H. gives CPT. Y the water and then immediately goes back to the previous conversation. Later CPT H. tells me, “I just gave him the water, otherwise he wouldn’t let me finish talking to him about the targets.” CPT H. makes the following proposal, “If I talk to the S4 and get his permision and get you some nails, can you get a carpenter to put together some target frames so that in the future you have what you need to train and aren’t shooting at bits of plywood? Would that help with how you want to train?” CPT Y., nods his head yes, “If, you talk to the S4 and get us nails.” He then nods his head once more and walks away. Skinny shakes his head, “I tell you! He is crazy!” I ask Skinny what he means. “He only cares about himself. He wants the water. But no please, no thank you. He doesn’t care about the students. He wants CPT H. to do all the work. He is lazy.”

CPT H., meanwhile moves to the goat herders who have taken a squat and are watching the ANA train while the goats mill around military vehicles. Skinny catches up and the four begin what appears to be a fairly casual conversation about goat herding. CPT H., for example, asks if the herders are brothers and if so, who is the oldest.” Skinny translates throughout. The one on the right of the photo (bellow) says that he is the oldest. CPT H. then inquires about how many goats the young herder has, where he sells them, and what a good goat costs. The herder answers that the goats are about $60/head, but he only sells baby goats. He has about 60 goats (for now), and will sell the “kids” in Jalalabad.  CPT H. then starts asking about the small children that follow the ANA around, picking up brass casings after training shoots. The eldest herder replies by pointing to the village behind us and saying, “They are very fast!” referring to the speed of their hands in picking up brass. CPT H. also asks about how long the herders have been living and grazing in the area, where the best grass is, and, importantly, from an intelligence point of view, who the other herders are and whether or not anyone knew has been in “his” grazing area.  CPT H. gets no information on new herders or anything that might indicate who has been shooting at us.  After a few more casual questions, and some drinking from water bottles, the group parts ways.

A British Captain interviews goat herders about goat prices and life in the area.

When we return from the short chat with the herders, we go back and watch the ANA instructors and their students.  The shooting is, even taking into account that there are no targets up, pretty bad. One ANA soldier shoots the ground two feet in front of face. He is niether in a good shooting position nor does he appear to be looking at where he is shooting. To the point that he appears to be looking around while randomly pulling the trigger. Of course the shot that lands two feet in front of the students face, catches him by suprise, as he is sprayed with a plume of dust and rock. Wahid, the instructor, storms over, shouts and gives the student a good kick the thight. However, this pedegogical strategy seems to not have the intended effect, as yet another shoots ground six feet in front of face, also causing blow back. Wahid also gives this ANA student the personal touch of a quick whack of the hand to the back of his helmet.  Wahid, pulls all the students off the line and forms the students up into their platoon formation. SGT P. goes and has a talk with Wahid, as he is also flustered by the lack of shooting discipline he observed. Wahid leads the students in dry fire exercises about shooting position. But fill stands back, head down, shaking and comments, “If we went off to scoff [lunch] right now, they would just stop what they’re doing.” As the sun beats down, the advisers retreat to the shade of their vehicles. Within about five minutes of us disappearing behind the vehicles, the dry firing stops and the students are to be seen, sitting or laying around, listening to music on their cell phones, or making phone calls. SGT P. turns to all of us and utters one word, “Soff?” Three head nods lead to the silent piling into the vehicle.

As we prepare to leave, our vehicle comes to a lurching stop and stalls. After two more tries, SGT P. gets her going and we speed off to “scoff” with the intention of returning in an hour to get back to training. The ANA are eating in the field, and a truck brings them their food: naan, rice, and green onions.

Despite SGT P.’s best intentions, our attempt to return to the 100m range, literally, stalls. As we climb the steep road into the base of the mountains, the engine stalls. Sgt P. starts it again, and we go a bit further before the engine dies again. Finally we get to the top of one of the foothills when the vehicle finally comes to a halt on a steep incline. To our left is the mountain and to our right is a steep drop off into a draw. There is no where to go. Sgt P. radios for Gully ( a nickname) who is driving an armored Land Cruiser in front of us to turn around. We have to tow the vehicle to the top. We stop and crack open the hood. However, no one knows much about vehicles and it appears that there is little to be done. We find an intersection and push the vehicle until it is turned around. The only idea is to get the vehicle pointed down hill, get it rolling, and hope that the manual transmission vehicle will just start. We are lucky, and SGT P. gets the vehicle started as it rolls down the steep road. Unfortuantely, he is unable to slow the vehicle down without stalling it out. So Skinny, CPT H. and I end up chasing after the vehicle and having to jump into it while it slowly continues to move down the road.

“Fuck it. We’re done,” SGT P. says, and the day comes to an early end.

Advisers rig a toe cable to get a stalled vehicle up a road.

Life on the FOB – Afghanistan Day 26, “…the best intentions”

Standing in the hot sun of the dry training area, just bellow a local burial ground,  I turn to a couple of combat advisers about something I heard at chow at lunch the other day but forgot about. “What happened to the dog? Someone said they [meaning the Brits] shot a dog.”  “SGT S. says, “Well that’s not quite what happened. You know the young pup by the ‘cottage.'” “Yeah, the one with the bad legs?” I said. “Well” SGT S. continues, “The ANA thought it would be quite funny to throw it over a wall. Heartless bastards broke its hip,  so that’s how it got injured. But the lads thought, even though they had adopted it and started feeding it and giving it water, that it wasn’t getting better so they would put it out of its misery.” “Okay,” I said, prompting him past the pause in the story. “Well, no one actually wanted to shoot the dog but everyone knew it was better than letting the poor pup linger. The lad who cared for the  the pup the most, finally stepped up and said he would do it. So they put the pup in the back of the wagon, leashed it up and drove off to the range where they would shot it. That would be that. What the lads didn’t know was that after they drove off, the pup jumped out of the wagon and was dragged by the leash for 500m or so and that killed the dog. Poor lads were pretty upset about it. They thought they were going to do the pup a favor and put him down real quick like rather than leave him to the mercy of the ANA guys. Instead, they made this poor dog have a long painful death. It just goes to show that like anything here in Afghanistan, the best intentions  can go astray.”

Many of my posts probably are best described as lacking in analytical reconstruction. So briefly, I should say some words about how and why “best intentions,” often seems to describe the efforts of combat advisers. Combat advisers, in Afghanistan,  have the unenviable job of supporting the building of a modern, industrial style, and bureaucratic military. But they are to do so without any of the tools or resources that mark the rise of modern bureaucratic militaries, e.g. pre-existing bureaucratized churches like those of Western Europe in the 17th century, the centralized proto-states of European monarchs, the experience of Talyorized industrialism, Fordism, and scientific management of the the early 20th century. Importantly, despite the popular conception that the advisers have some kind of colonial authority, or can rule through the brute force of techno-war, each day is in fact a battle with the ANA over legal-rational authority over, to use Weber’s terminology, “tranditional” modes of authority.

To many of the ANA students, holding the position of “adviser” or “instructor” simply does not hold much water. The ANA is not organizationally like the Weberian bureaucracy where conduct is “subject to strict  and systematic discipline and control.” Instructors sometimes respond to the misconduct (whether ethical or simply the performance of stoppage drills) with anything other than what appears to be an arbitrary and capricious manner. The student, however, that is the son of a locally important mullah, however, may carry much greater weight in terms of what goes on out on the heavy machine gun range. The ANA instructors, dominate less by respect for authority then the use of abuse and fear but again, even that slight power that is backed by the emerging bureaucratic structures of the ANA, can be trumped by students who come from more important families, have wealth, etc. Moreover, the ANA instructors, like the combat adviser may only have the partial backing of the “highers” who can empower them to remove a problem student, impose strict performance standards, etc. As Taff has said repeatedly of his struggle with the ANA powers that be, “It is quantity over quality.” And it is often with the complicity of the Coalition Forces that such breakdowns occurs, as “It’s the CF and the ANA that want to just push these guys through, poorly trained, like mine. You know, call them ‘sharpshooters’ when they can’t zero because everyone wants to show how quickly the ANA has improved. So even if I can’t qualify them, they get passed as ‘sharpshooters’ and sent down South to units where they will be useless, get killed, or just be a liability.”

In the past few days, multiple advisers have been shot and killed by the very people they are charged for enskilling. It often does not matter that the”best intentions” of the advisers is to prepare ‘their” soldiers and instructors for future battles, that they genuinely do want to empower their students to simply survive in the battles down in the South of the country.  Often these shootings look like crimes of passion, where advisers tell someone that they are “wrong” in public, and later that day or the next day, the soldier comes back and rectifies his mortified social self through a kind of reconstituting use-of-deadly-force. The advisers, and often the ANA instructors themselves, are still in the business of selling the ANA as a ‘sacred institution’ and lending the positions of the institution prestige or as Weber put it, “a belief” in the position of authority, “a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige” (1966:382). And yet this is not a prestige that the advisers have. They cannot impose upon the ANA through “dominance of a spirit of formalistic impersonality” (Weber 1966: 340) and so any injunction, criticism, or condemnation they make comes without the status and prestige that make it receivable in ways other than as a personal insult.  The advisers are not oblivious to this. Advisers often tip-toe around very real and potentially deadly training errors (again, weapons stoppages being my favorite because so technical in nature) so as not to ‘step on the toes’ of students or instructors. Adviser often have a Macabre humor about it as well, as when I described, some weeks ago, the advisers semi-jokingly wondering whether or not an ANA instructor they verbally reprimanded (because they had no real power to punish) would shoot them in the back during training.

Whatever the bureaucratic context, much of the strife this week seems to have accompanied that jump in temperature. Instead of high temps in the upper 60’s the temperature shot up to a stead high in the upper 80’s. Being out on the “sharpshooter” course is like standing in a microwave. Its hot and you are getting bombarded by UV. For the advisers, today was a mixed day.

Upon arriving at the infantry school, the interpreter greats us right away to tell us that the Major in charge of handing out ammunition is in the office. Taff charges off with the interpreter to try and secure ammunition. He reappears half an hour later looking sour, “Fucking no ammunition again today. That twat won’t give it up again. Fuck it, I am not going to stress over it. That’s a recipe for an early grave.” Taff turns to me, “Mate, if you don’t mind, I’ve got some left over ammo from yesterday, so will shoot. But with the French guys gone, its just you and me. Will you go pick up the students and come back and then we will head up and shoot.

I grab the terp and head across the ANA compound to the Conex boxes where the ANA students are retrieving their weapons. The two Afghan Border Police come over and great me with American style handshakes and “buddy hugs,” “Salaam Lande, what’s up!” “khoob as!” or “good!” I reply. I pile everyone into the DFC HiLux, armored pickup and we very…very…very slowly drive back to the “cottage” to pick up Taff. From the cottage we drive up to the range. The ANA and Afghan border police pile out, grab their weapons from Taff’s armored vehicle and go set up. Taff explains to the students that they will be shooting at targets at 300m and beyond. He tells them to set up and then tries to explain what bolders he wants them to shoot at.

Now, normaly this would not be a straightforward task, even between English speakers. After all, with the kind of rocky terrain here in Kabul, it does not mean much to say, “Aim for the white rock up there, to the left of the curve in the road.” I always have to ask myself and then usually Taff, “Which curve do you mean, the bottom one or the one up higher near the chimney looking thing? Do you mean the brown rock or the whitish rock? To the left or to the right.” Now Taff has to go through this process with the interpreter and then the interpreter to the students. So not surprisingly, some of the reference is lost in the translation, or the translator is not very precise and some of the reference gets lost.

The first sign of trouble was that as Taff was handing out ammunition, after the students had supposedly sighted in and ranged their weapons, one of the ANA students started shooting. This pissed Taff off who tells the translator to tell the student, “Listen. I didn’t tell you to fire. I told you to load and make your weapon ready!”  The one upside to the student firing was that it was clear as day that the student did not understand where the target was. He was off to the the left, hitting a rock about another 50m back from the target.” I ask why the Students don’t do sector sketches (used by snipers to log distances of reference points so that they can quickly adjust their sites to shoot at targets at different distances). Taff  says, simply, “They won’t do it. If they did, the would have their rifles set up and know what the distances were to the targets. I could just point on their sector maps. But they refuse to do it.” Taff cannot tell me why. Taff re-explains the target to one of the border police who speaks a bit of English. The border policeman hits near the target. Taff shouts and points to the instructor, “Tell them that’s what they are shooting at! The plume!”

It does not take long for the training take a further turn for the worse. The two ANA soldiers start sitting up from their firing positions, a basic error that to Taff signifies that “their heads aren’t in the game. They just aren’t concentrating’” Not 10 minutes later, after the students have burned through their ammunition, the two ANA students fail to execute drills to clear their weapons. One leaves his bolt shut with the safety on. The other fails to drop the magazine and set the rifle on safe. Taff walks over and tells both students to properly clear their weapons. He turns to the interpreter and says, “Ask them why they are like this today? Why aren’t they doing their drills properly?” The youngest of the two ANA students says, via the interpreter, “I did it like you taught me.” Of course, having watched Taff and Dee Dee teach the clearing drills, I know that this isn’t true. But what has happened, sociologically speaking, is that Taff has dropped the disciplinary practices necessary to maintain a correct order of movement and replaced it with a demand for accounts: i.e. exasperated “whys?” Taff, grumbles something that I don’t hear, and he waves at the youngest ANA student to move out of the way. He gets down on the ground and executes the proper clearing drill several times, but fast. Probably too fast for the ANA to see and understand even if they were paying attention. But the two seem to only be occasionally watching Taff.

I ask Taff why he doesn’t make the student do push-ups, or pull the student off the line, or pull the student out of the course, something to act as a means of punishment to enforce discipline. Taff simply says, “I will try to have him pulled from the course by talking to his commander but that requires a whole process. If an ANA instructor where here maybe he would do something or maybe not.”

Taff calls out more targets but focuses on the border policemen since they seem more responsive.  He calls out targets and occasionally there are miscommunications regarding the target which are overcome with a few quick exchanges. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture these exchanges on video as they occurred to rapidly and I did not have enough memory on my camcorder to leave it running. That said, the problems of targeting seemed likely to have been an issue not so much of cross-cultural communication (other than a third party, the interpreter, that adds an extra step) since there were times I didn’t know what Taff was referring to. The issues is one of building reference and none of the tools, like sector maps, or a shared experience of the range and which rocks are likely to be candidate targets, were there to make targeting a quickly achieved processes.

After two weeks with this group, Taff seems “done.” At one point he tells me  part of the problem is that the ANA still refuse to zero their rifles. “If they’d zero they could make adjustments for windage and elevation. Instead they are just moving their sights off and guessing whether it will hit the target.  When they did the zeroing, they wouldn’t adjust their sights, they just shoot up or down until they hit the target. So now they are all fucked. Good news for us if they turn!”

Taff ends the training after about two hours since it is unproductive. He takes the students back to the infantry school and has them clean their weapons. At lunch check in with Taff and ask him how the rest of the morning went. “Great! I took the two ANA, put them on their knees, and finished it. No more problems!” he jokes. “I am going to have to add another week to the training just because these ANA won’t do the training right.

Also, today, Daru Pavel, “LT”, as he is known to the Brits, the USMC Lt. who has become one of my buddies and work out partners here, leaves for the US today. The Infantry Advisers had an awards ceremony for him this evening. During his speech to thank the Brits, the Kiwis, and the French for hosting him he said, “Remember to stay energized about working with the ANA. The ANA can be real cunts and grind you down. But remember they are trying to do their best. Sometimes they are just ignorant. They don’t have the same military history or institutions that we built over hundreds of years. So stay energized so that when the new guys come in they stay excited about the mission.”


This morning I link up with Stu and Sgt. S. to observe a close target recon training. The advisers warn me, “I don’t know what’s going to happen today. The instructors didn’t seem to know anything about this drill yesterday, so we walked them through it. They said they were going to drill it today and that they understood. They are supposed to do a tactical march to the dry fire training area and begin the exercises. We will split up with an interpreter each and follow each squad. Phil’s guys from the Train the Trainers course are also supposed to help the instructors. We’ll see.” We hope into the armored Toyata and drive out to the dry fire range. No one is there. Stu says, “Well maybe they marched up the road.” We drive up the road, nealry several kilometers into the hills before we turn around. No sight of any ANA.

We drive back down to the bottom of the dry fire training area. SGT S., in what I think was a very generous gesture, suggests, “Well, we really emphasized the importance of concealment yesterday, maybe they are hiding.” SGT S. was not joking. We drive very slowly, then hop out of the vehicle to start poking around where we trained on the 26th, looking for hiding ANA students and instructors. No one is to be found.
Eventually we are flagged down by a very angry looking ANA military policeman. We slow down, and roll down the windows, the interpreters tell us that the MP is saying “You are not allowed here today. There is a march tomorrow. Get off!” Stu gets pissed off, “Fuck that. We are allowed here. No one told us the range is closed! Tell him that we are allowed here. We are advisers.” The interpreters say, “No, he says you have to go. No ANA are here today. They and you aren’t allowed here.” It finally dawns on the advisers that they have not been told that there is a holiday tomorrow. ” The advisers giggle in the back of the vehicle when Stu asks, “So you are saying that the instructors knew that there was a holiday tomorrow and they didn’t tell us that they weren’t going to train?” “Yes” says one of the interpreters. An adviser asks, “so why, if you guys knew this, didn’t you tell us?” One of the interpreters says, “Well this is a good thing. Its boring and hot out here. We can go now.” Stu looks absolutely pissed. We head back to the “cottage” to regroup. On the way back we pass the gate to the ANA camp. We see a bunch of ANA students who are smiling and waving at us. They are mixed into a company of about 75 ANA soldiers. SGT S., why, they are here. Why are they with all these other people?” The interpreter says, “that is the sick call.” Now the advisers look really ticked off. “you mean they only show up to sick call? That’s half the platoon!”

Upon getting back to the cottage, we find only every other group of advisers has had the same experience. Yesterday they had reached agreements with their instructors as to what was to occur today, only to find out that not one of them had been informed that not a one of the ANA instructors or students was actually going to show up today.  When one of the advisers pops off with a litnay of explititaves, one of the other advisers smiles and says, “Woo-sah! Woo-sah! Find your zen place. I’ll make you a brew.”

Life on the FOB – Afghanistan Days 23/24 “Objet inconnu touche a ton coeur!”

Dee Dee, the nick name of a French sniper instructor, grins as he puffs on a his cigarette, says, “Object inconnu touche a ton coeur!” “Que? Qu’est-ce que cela signifie?” I ask in very broken and awful french. Dee Dee says, “Its a French saying, that  means that sometimes a mysterious object touches your heart. I was meaning the ANP who went to pray during the break. But here sometimes I could say ‘Objet iconnu touche a ton cul!’ That means a mysterious object touches your ass! And that is what will happen if they [the ANA students] don’t start using their cover!” And such has been the past two days with a British and French sniper team that is teaching the first batch of ANA and ANP to become sharpshooters. The team, one British infantry sniper a French infantry sniper and another French soldier for support, have been careful to deliniate that even though they are teaching the Afghans how to be better shooters, “We don’t teach them everything that we do. One, because they aren’t ready yet and, two, because it is a dangerous weapon and I don’t necessarily want them to have everything yet. Especially these guys who we don’t know and don’t know if they have been vetted.” The constant strain of distrust is even more apparent in the joke that the interpreter and the instructors make when, during a movement and concealment exercise, one of the ANP shooters answer his loudly ringing cell phone. SGT M. slaps himself on the forehead and Dee Dee says, “Allo! Is this Mullah Omar? Yes! Oh, we are here now! Just wanted you to know!” The interpreter jokingly says, “maybe he is just calling to let his Taliban friends to know his position. Hey Taliban!”

The past two days out on the “sharpshooter” course,  has confirmed what I have found to be a general pattern. There are two types of advisers: those that want to instruct and get down and dirty and those that want to only interact with the instructors, typically at the end of the training or later in the afternoon. The first grip, lets call them the “engages” worry as much about creating dependency between the instructors and the adviser  as the second group, lets call them the “commentators.” But the groups differ in that the “engagers” both prefer doing the training, they tend to worry and talk more about what will happen to the students upon deploying,   and they tend to think of training in “craw, run, walk” style. The “commentators” tend to treat advising as a weaning process where the main effort is to get the instructors to think and act on their own without coming to the advisers for help. Now, both groups will invoke similar concepts and practices, what differs  is the relative weighting each group giver. What is amazing to me is that across the multiple national militaries that I have observed, all fall within these two general types of instructors. That is, there is a general agreement in concepts, discourse, and practice. The French tend to call more into the “commentators” class while the Kiwis are most likely to fall into the “engagers” class.

On the sniper instruction team SGT M. is very much an engager while SGT G., the French adviser tends to speak more to the students through the interpreter. Because of the nature of “sharpshooter course, both have to be more involved than their normal advising duties, though that will change, SGT M. tells me, once a T3 course begins (Train The Trainers). I ask SGT M. how he communicates with his students. “Well I use the interpreters. I used to know some Dari,  but its mostly gone. But even if I had it, it wouldn’t do much good since half my students are Pashto speakers. I do the same thing with the interpreter and without. I use body language. If I want them to do something, I try to put my body into the position for them, and break it down so they can see what I want. Like today, I to show them how to build a position, I go and do it first. Or, like, if they aren’t breathing right, I grab my rifle or hold my arms up and take deep breathes  while showing when to depress the trigger. If the student is breathing all over the place then I try to show them a steady pattern, ‘inhale, exhale, shoot.’ If they are holding their breath too long then I will do the same and puff my cheeks and turn red and start shaking real hard. They don’t have to speak English to get what I’m saying. Although the ‘Terps’ are good, they try to condense what I say and it seems they leave about half out of what I say.

A UK instructor shows a sharpshooter how to crawl with his rifle.

Using Touch to Explain a Target without Shared Language

One of the complaints that the instructors have, and emphasized by SGT M., is that the ANA do not have “total institutions” for their training. That is, training takes up a slice of time and work, play, family, prayers are all separate. Thus the instructors do not have the students under their watch at all times, nor do they have the ability to discipline them or structure their time in an effective way to turn the ANA into good soldiers or the students into quality sharpshooters. A day after SGT M. told me he thought discipline was a major issues in training the ANA, he had a small insurection on his hands. The students had a setup drill where the recruits had to move approximately 20m to a shooting position by using the four movment techniques they had learned, yesterday, including crawling. The initial movement required crawling. The first sign of trouble was when the ANA students said they didn’t want to go first. They wanted the two border police to go first. SGT M., thinking that the two border police were in fact more experienced decided to allow this. After the border police had begun their movement and the ANA students had several minutes to watch, SGT M. told them it was their turn to beign movement to their positions. One of the ANA just stood up and walked to the position. Another turned to the interpreter and said something to the effect of, “No. This isn’t part of my job. I don’t need this training.” I could see Taff’s (SGT M.) face turn red and his brows furrow in anger but he maintained a calm voice and explain, via Zey, the interpreter, “You understand that if you don’t practice this, you will get shot trying to get in or out of your position?” The student replied, “I don’t need to do it.” He picked up his rifle and walked to the position. Taff asked the other student what he was doing, and the student replied, “I am not crawling.” He pointed to a group of 40 ANA students training on the .50 call machine gun at the HMG range and said, “They will all think I am being disicplined.” Taff, flustered, said, “I just was crawling in the dirt. I am not ashamed. This is the job of being a sharpshooter, you have to know and practice your fieldcraft.” He again asks, “You do understand that if you just walk up to your position, you will be killed in combat?” Taff turns to Zey to get the second students answer. Zey shrugs and says, “He’s stupid, he just says he’s not going to do it.” Taff says, “Screw it. They don’t want to train, then they don’t pass. They can shoot, but I am not passing them on the course. I can’t send them to a unit this way.”

While the two border police had taken their time crawling to a good position, often slithering over dirt piles and rocks to find a good spot with cover, like a small ditch, the two ANA simply dropped their rifles where they stood.  Because they didn’t check their position, the first ANA student who fired, shot right into a mound of dirt not 10 meters in front of him. Only after getting a plum of dust sprayed back towards him, did the ANA student finally begin listening to Taff and Dee Dee.

Yesterday, at the Brit Club, Taff had told me, “Its a numbers game. They just send us people and we are told to pass them. It doesn’t matter if they fail their qualificaitons. They still get sent off. A few months ago we had an officers course where in the last two weeks of the course, they sent us a bunch of new students. Well they had missed all the training. Didn’t matter. The ANA told us to certify them and they got sent of to lead platoons of 30 guys! Its really frustrating. All this run before you can walk. We are going to leave here in a few years and the ANA is not going to be able to stand on its own. Quality, not numbers. Accountability and discipline. You need these first.”

The war photographer Tim Hetherington wrote in  a tweet — @TimHetherington: “Understanding what motivates soldiers…will…help us determine what we can & cannot reasonably expect from them… http://ow.ly/2HRau.” September 27, 2010.

Whereas the soldiers of the 101st Airborne that Hetherington observed and documented with Junger in Afghanistan were often unequipped to be street-level diplomats, the combat advisers are skilled diplomats, able to hold back anger, sarcasam, and enraged postures in order to benefit “the big picture” as they see it.” But when today, after having two students basically say “fuck off” to an instructor, who seems to be genuinely concerned about imparting skills meant to save their lives, and to have this happen day after day,  I am amazed that the instructors don’t just give up, that they don’t just become cynical and start falling back onto cliche’s and stereotypes about the Afghans. Even when today I watched  three ANA walk up a road, onto the live fire range, with rounds headed down range from .50 cals and M24, only to start walking up the hill towards the shooters, then to shout at the instructors for not stopping the firing. Three Afghans put themselves into immediate and immanent danger, much to my surprise. Instructors had to litterally throw themselves onto students to stop the firing on the various weapons systems.

When I saw the three ANA emerge from behind a draw, swinging water bottles, and chit chatting,  my pulse hit the ceiling, I was sure one if not all were going to be cut down by gunfire. By chance none were killed. The instructors, just shrug it off, “Insha’allah!” Even the interpreter mumbles, “They are lunatics!” The reality is that neither I nor the instructors nor the Afghan interpreter know why the ANA students would walk in front of .50 cal rounds but the tone it sets is grim as it highlights how much work has yet to be done to get the ANA to be a capable fighting force. If officer safety is the “god term” of police work and the centerpiece of judging training and police competency, that certainly is not the case here. And the consequence is that ANA’s seeming disregard for their own lives, what the combat advisers call “Insha’Allah” saps the energy and motivation from the advisers more than being ignored by students, more than having the garrison command refuse to resource the students with ammunition, oil for their guns, or the ever sought after stationary.  Nonetheless, the combat advisers show up everyday, with the very real risk of their own students turning on them with firearms, to try and teach the warfighting skills that will only be partially appropriated by the students. As SGT S. said a few days ago, “It doesn’t have to be our right. It just has to be right for Afghanistan. It’s not our country.”

Life on the FOB- Afghanistan Day 20 – “You can hear when they’re aiming at you”

Today was largely a dissapointing day. Not just because there wasn’t much for me to see and to do but I think everyone in advisers group has been bummed out. Sgt P. for example got off to a bad start when, during a ambush training, his students showed up with a M249 SAW machine gun but not one M16.  SGT P. asked why the students and more importantly why the instructors hadn’t brought their weapons. The reply, from the interpreter was, “They didn’t think they’d need them.” Flustered, Sgt. P shouted to the students, “For fucks sake! How’d you think we were going to do an ambush! Why’d they bring a fucking 249?”

The day started off on a bad footing. At 0730 we all showed up. But as soon as everyone rallied, a message came down saying that everyone had to go to the gym to help set up the new multi-gym. Since everyone was all kited up and had already loaded up the vehicles, this news was not met with smiles.  Moreover, several of the advisers got called into a meeting with one of the ANA Majors over what I suspect was a misunderstanding. Yesterday a group of ANA students rebeled against their instructor and the advisers when, after doing only one break contact drill [i.e. breaking contact with an ambush] the students, led by one in particular, refused to conduct any further training. The advisers became pissed of because they thought the students were being lazy. The students claimed that the advisers were somthing like slave drivers. However, I don’t find this to be an accurate statement since the advisers generally go along with the ANA instructors and let them release the students after, at most 4 hours of training. One of the students, who the advisers think is the son of a mullah or someone else important, complained to the infantry school staff and so several adivsers were called in for a consult. This the advisers were not happy about.

Other advisers were pissed off because they had to go to a conference. They had expected, as one of the Smudges put it, “for it to be real academic like. But nah. Instead every single one of the ANA instdructors, all these guys from the training centers around the country, all they do is get up and say  ‘we have no stationary.’ Come on now, is that all you have to say? Fucking ridicouls. Come all the way here and all you can say is ‘we have no stationary.’ That can’t be the only issue you have.”

Then, later in the morning, while out on the 100m range, there was the distinct report of “effective gunfire.” That is, from the Taliban village nearby a single shooter decided to shoot at us again. Though the shots were off by about 100m, there was the disinct sound of rounds passing by (unlike last time when all you could hear was the impact). One of the SGTs, after scrambling for his M24 grumbled, “You can hear when they are aiming at you!”

All in all, everyone was in a sour mood, and no one got any effective training done.  The advisers here really do care about the ANA students and instructors. When they aren’t advising they are constantly strategize how to teach better and increase the performance of the ANA students. They are also worried and exasperated. One of the advisers, at lunch groaned, “Fuck, in a week these guys go South [to Helmund], they just aren’t bloody ready. The instructors haven’t been there [i.e. fought before] and they aren’t making sure that these guys are ready to survive. Its tough down there. We are trying everything we can to help the students but if we don’t let the instructors take over and make them better then what happens to these lads when we leave. They’ll be fucked mate. These guys [the instructors] they get these positions because their family has pull and doesn’t want them to go to the South but that is bad for the students because they aren’t being taught by people with experience. People who understand what they will be going to.”

Taliban village.

On the dry fire range, SGT. S and Stu were out with their interpreter, Wahid the instructor,  and two squads of students.  In a somewhat comical fashion, the adivsers misconstrue a contact exercise that Wahid has the instructors doing. SGT. S. wonders aloud, “Today is an ambush day. Why are the doing contacts?” Stu replies, “Maybe they are confusing ambused and ambushing.” The two advisers go back and forth debating whether or not they need to changer the terminology they use. Fez, the interpreter gets defenseive too! “I was clear, today is small unit ambushes. I didn’t tell them to practice getting ambushed. ” Then SGT S. had to placate Fez, “Oh no Fez, we don’t think you made any mistake, we just aren’t sure if we’re being clear of they [the instructors] don’t understand the difference between ambushed and ambushing.  When Wahid has a pause, after putting the two squads through contact drills, SGT S. has him come over. Wahid explains that because they had extra time on the dry fire range that day that he was doing remedial training. He then laid out his plan to do small unit ambushes, after evaluating whether or not his student first understood the break contact drills. Pleased, SGT S. and Stu took  a back seat to the training and were largely satisfied with the days work. I thought this was a nice simple example of how people come to see a cultural difference, when, in fact, none is in play.

Life on the FOB – Afghanistan Day 18 -“Better to let ’em do it tolerably than perfectly”

Morning – Contact Drills

Standing on the ruins of a Soviet FOB from the 1980s, Simon, a Kiwi adviser, shakes his head at the conclusion of a group of ANA students conducting a contact drill. “Well, as T.E. Lawrence said, better to let’em do it tolerably than perfectly. That guy was a ahead of his time.” Simon was referring less to the ANA students than to the ANA instructors that he mentors. As he and Stu, a British adviser, continually point out, the ANA students can only perform as well as their instructors teach and the instructors only instruct as well as they engage with the advisers. “But,” said Stu, “I had a breakthrough today. Wahid [an ANA instructor], realized he was fucking up and he actually came to me and asked for advice. So things are getting better… a bit, anyway.”

What is so difficult about the war, the advisers tell me, is getting the ANA to take charge of their own security and building of their own military. As LT. P and CPT M. had pointed out several days prior, its not all the ANA’s fault. The coalition’s patrimonial stance toward the ANA left them in such a degree of dependency that they never developed shared expectations about resource management, logistics, or even, as many of the advisers suggest, planning ahead for the future. That said, even the Afghan interpreters periodically erupt in complaints. Today, Abdulah, one of the interpreters, complains, while we stand beside our beat up Land Cruiser, “They are lazy! The instructors, they don’t want to work. Look, he’s [the instructor] is just standing there! He’s left the attacking group sitting for 20 minutes. They move so slow so they only have to do one or two exercises before going home.”

Stu complains, “When they teach [the instructors] they just stand in front of the students for 30 minutes explaining contact. You can see it, the students are falling asleep, there not paying attention. Remember when Kutz and the Captain did the movement drill on the 100m range? Well you could see how they responded to a demonstratoin. They really perked up, eyes all wide, and they start talking. Problem is the instructors, here, don’t use any kind of visual aid. So if I didn’t use the rocks today. If I didn’t show Wahid the rocks he wouldn’t use them… . If you saw Wahid, he wasn’t even paying attention to me when I was explaining how to use the rocks as visual aids. He had his head down and was being mopey, as usual, and so he got the drill with the rocks wrong along with the actual drill.”

Wahid, an ANA instructor, tries to use rocks as teaching aids

While I was watching Wahid using rocks to train in how to break contact during an ambush, Simon comes over to me and ask, “What do you see that’s wrong here?” I told Simo, “I don’t know much about ambushes so I can’t say.” “Just look at how he’s teaching. What’s wrong?” Simon asks. I finally see what he means, “Oh, he has everyone in a horse shoe formation but he is teaching with his back to the largest group!” “Exactly” Simon says, “and that is the problem. Even though he is using the rocks he isn’t at all concerned with whether or not anyone can hear or see him! The ANA just aren’t used to aids or to drilling and this is what happens.”

Of course, on of the cognitively interesting aspects of this incident is that it highlights that there is nothing evident or natural about various modes of communication and interaction. So to the degree that using “visual aids” or props is a culturally varying competency (i.e. in one society it may be a more necessary means of indexing and constituting referents than another), it is not sufficient just to tell someone who hasn’t learned to take-for-granted visual aids that they ought to use them. For example, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, to use visual aids requires that the aids be used not just to keep track of their referents but that the aids be visibly available to others. On the few occasions where I have seen the ANA instructors attempt to use visual aids (either drawing on paper, drawing in the dirt, or using rocks/bullets in arrangements), in almost all cases the instructors have stood in front of the visual aid, thereby obstructing the students view of the aid meant to guide them, or they have simply failed to use the props as a vehicle of participation with an audience. That there are differences in how societies use props to involve participants in an interaction is not commonly taken as an important cultural difference. This does not mean that there is some variant underlying “code” that makes the use of props to index in certain ways more or less important it is simply that using props is a practice that requires it be available if it is to be learned and reproduced as a communicative strategy.

Afternoon- Fit to Fight

Fit to Fight Speed Circute

Fit to Fight Monthly Scheduale Review