by Jalal Aagood
2013 Interview in Kabul, Afghanistan
|Q: Can you tell me about how you came to be serving in Afghanistan?
A: The Joint Chief of Staff was looking for good men and women to fill a special program he called Afpak Hands (Afghanistan - Pakistan). When I first heard about it, I thought - who are they going to get to fill those slots? Four years of your life given over to nearly two years deployed to Afghanistan or Pakistan, language school and a mid tour dedicated to the Afpak region. I told my wife about it and she thought I'd be a good candidate, but we didn't talk about it much after that. Then it came time for me to put down my requests to my detailer of where we wanted to be stationed next and she came to me crying that she just wanted to settle down for a while and to take the four year job. So I did. She was right, I do think I'm a good fit for it, but it is very challenging.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face?
A: Well - family, culture, security and upper management visibility are some that come to mind. It is hard to leave my family for so long - everyone changes and I feel like I'm loosing the beautiful daily encounters I used to take for granted. Hugs especially, but things like pulling teeth, being there to fix things and spending time with my wife I miss. The culture here is very hard to describe. The Afghan people are very hospitable and very gritty. They are resourceful and really want to end this fighting and get on with life. But here's an example of the challenges I face. My language skills are very elementary and so things like meetings and watching the news are too much for me. Today I got made fun of as I sat through a meeting - my friend later told me they laughed as they asked why this foreigner sat through a meeting that he couldn't understand. Oh well - so much for building relationships there. Security is still a big issue. I work in Kabul and have a reduced force protection package, but it is still very difficult to "commute" to meet the people I need to meet with. I don't have a dedicated team, so I'm constantly looking for someone to go with me - drug deals. Another challenge is the people above me don't seem to understand what I do, so I don't always get the support I need and lately, with Obama's verbal drawdown, we at the lower levels don't know what the future holds - so its in God's hands and I try not to worry. Anyway, those are some of the challenges I'm facing.
Q: You mentioned God's hands, how has your faith impacted your deployment?
A: That's a great question. My wife has mentioned leaving me and that has created quite a heavy depressing load - I didn't know how much she mattered to me - or how much her opinion mattered to me. Like I was trying to make her happy. Pretty dark time. But God also used this time to purge me of pornography and lust and draw me closer to Him. There are several bible studies and a great chapel service that has been a great encouragement to me. He also has put people here in my life who have been able to say just the right words at the right time to let me know God is in control. It is hard to find that joyfulness first thing in the morning, but I can see my prayer life getting worked on and my faith growing stronger. Really I'm learning how to love God, know Jesus and listen for the Holy Spirit. I cannot control my wife and so I'm just putting my marriage at the foot of Jesus' throne and asking for an awesome marriage - for healing. Though this is a valley, it is pretty clear that my dear wife also needs this time to heal. Pretty heavy, sorry about that.
Q: Wow - that's awful, sorry to hear that. What are your goals for this deployment?
A: Well, as you can imagine, they've changed since I've hit the reality of Afghanistan. I'd still like to finish writing a book - about a mega-city. I'd like to learn the basics of guitar playing. Learn more Pashto. One that I didn't see coming and I've taken it on here is to learn more about cricket. Two months ago, I hardly knew anything about cricket - nor did I have any intention to. One of my coworkers has a relative involved in cricket, I see it on the TV, and Afghanistan recently won their fourth cricket title of some sort. So I'm becoming a cricket novice and hope to be able to explain the rules of the game someday and even get to a game if security allows. But most importantly, I want to return alive to a home that is healing and wholesome and a joy to live in.