Thursday, March 24, 2011

Change is in the Air

Winter wheat in the Khowst bowl is flourishing as the recent March warmup interacts with January and February rains 

Perhaps it's the fact that I've managed to escape the past three Indiana winters, or better yet- the reality that the Khowst Province sits at an elevation of 6,000ft. Regardless, I can't say that I've ever seen such a rapid transition in temperatures.

Throughout the month of March, the mercury has been on the rise here around FOB Salerno. While I would hardly classify the conditions we experienced from December-early March as "winterlike", the rate at which we've seen temperatures increase has been quite dramatic. In the course of just several days, three at most, perspiration levels skyrocketed as the mid-to-low 50 degree temperatures we've all grown accustomed to suddenly shot up into the mid-80's.

This increase in temperature, coupled with scattered rain showers over the past month and half, has resulted in a drastic change of the landscape here in Khowst. A recent mission to a location utilized as a provincial observation center provided a great vantage point of this greening.

Weather is not the only thing changing around here, it seems change is in the air. In my short 27 years on this earth, I struggle to recall a moment in history when so much was going on across the globe. From the horrid chain of events in Japan, unrest across the string of Arab nations, and even the chaos ensuing in Statehouses across the midwest; Fox News and CNN have had plenty to cover in the past month or so. 

Soldiers from the Afghan National Army continue to accompany our convoys
on nearly every mission, hopefully taking home some valuable lessons learned.

A quick scan of the news coming out of Afghanistan is likely to bring up two key topics, the first of these being "civilian casualties" and the second "transition". While the first is a tragic and unfortunately all too common side effect of war, the second inspires that there might be light at the end of this tunnel that United States servicemembers have been traveling for the better part of a decade.

Commanders and public affairs professionals throughout the Afghan theatre have recently been instructed on the principles and conditions guiding a future transition. The key takeaway from these multi-paged documents is that any transition will be "conditions based" rather than implementation based on any timelines. However, many experts or even critics predict a dramatic reduction in troop levels well in advance of the 2012 election.

What does the future of Afghanistan look like? Well, that's a several billion dollar question... From a security standpoint, Afghan National Security Forces or ANSF (think a combination of US law enforcement and military components) would be capable of defending their own country. Currently, at least one ANSF vehicle accompanies every US and NATO convoy that leaves an installation. While US forces are conducting their standard operations here, a mentorship opportunity is simultaneously taking place.

Specialist Cadel Crowl and I surveying the landscape from atop the provincial observation point, the Khowst OCCP. Cadel is originally from Angola, Indiana and is currently studying Agricultural Education at Purdue University. Ironically enough, he and I also found that we have some distant relatives back in NE Indiana.
Another term that is repeatedly used in most transition conversations is "governance". Perhaps this is a term we take for granted back in the States; unfortunately most people in Afghanistan have never had the luxury of seeing this word in action. Ideally, as a transition occurs, district and provincial governments across Afghanistan will have the wherewithal to stand upon their own two feet. A transition is not an abrupt withdrawal, but rather a meticulous "thinning-out".

For Agribusiness Development Teams, the future holds many possibilities. Depending on who you ask, the composition of teams such as Indiana's 3-19th could look dramatically different in coming years. The group slated to replace us later this summer will most likely be the last of a Dept of Defense lead effort. Land grant universities such as Purdue will likely take the lead on many of these development minded teams. Other US government agencies such as the United States Dept. of Agriculture as well as the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will also continue to play a major role, especially in their continued mentorship responsibilities of Afghan agricultural officials such as the Minister of Agriculture.

Realistically speaking, the United States will have a significant presence in Afghanistan for decades to come. I'm careful to speak of a nation-state in terms of finances, but what type of return on investment would Americans receive if a transition didn't include some type of dividend for them after a decade of investing?

Major installations such as Bagram and Kandahar are strategic strongholds in this part of the world and will continue to be critical locations in future anti-terrorism efforts, long after Operation Enduring Freedom. In the next decade, these bases will soon be spoken of in the likes of countless other United States military installations throughout the world. I doubt soldiers fighting in WWII ever imagined that US servicemembers would still be serving today in places such as Germany and Japan, 70 years after the fact.

The one major player, globally speaking, that is yet to show their hand is China. In June of last year, Pentagon officials announced the discovery of nearly $1 trillion dollars worth of mineral deposits across the country of Afghanistan. As China's growing middle class continues to demand more and more natural resources, I wouldn't be surprised in the least bit to see an increased Chinese presence in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. After all, they do share a sliver of a border.

As we've seen across the globe, the one constant in a world of turmoil is change. Only time will tell what the future of Afghanistan will look like after what we all hope is a peaceful transition. Until then, those of us on the 3-19th ADT will continue to do the work we were called upon to complete.

Members of the 3-19th ADT gather to celebrate the birth of a daughter for one of our interpreters. Ajmal (on the tractor seat) is a 23 yr old Khowst native who is currently waiting on his Special Immigrant Visa, this was he and his wife's first child.


  1. You're quite the story teller buddy. Easy to read, interesting and good to know you're still doing good. Not sure what to think about 'El Moustache', but on the other hand who am I, with a characteristic hair dew and facial hair, to judge you. Keep up the good work buddy, I'm proud of ya! Bless.

  2. Bart,
    As always a very insightful blog. With the uphevals presently going on in the middle east, I often wonder how much that has to do with the positive changes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today as used my tech support in India,we talked about the situation in Japan. The world is getting smaller and smaller thanks to people like you that are reaching out to other cultures. Take care of yourself.