07 May 2011

The dark side of the moon

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is a little rusty on world geography, so today we'll learn about the dark side of the moon.

First, don't say that I'm going to the Middle East. I'm not. I'm going to Southwest Asia. I'm also going to yet another landlocked country. What you can't see in the Google map is the geography in the middle of Afghanistan - the densest mountains in the world.

Are you wondering why I have two little green letters on the map. One is for me, and the second is for Rob, who just found out he is also going to spend 6 months in Afghanistan this summer. Sometimes we really do get lucky. As you can see, we're relatively far apart, and no, we probably won't see each other often at all (thank goodness for Skype), but it is still nice to know that he's there, in the same wacky time zone.

It's Saturday. I have a great story for later, but for now I have class!

05 May 2011

Leading by the book

You are about to witness an absolute coup, and to be honest, I can't wait to see it unfold. It has become all out chaos here, and the number one reason it's become so terrible is that our leader (an inexperienced Lieutenant Colonel) doesn't know anything about the 31 other people he's been charged with leading. Which means that horrible creature we in the Air Force call the Idea Fairy has stricken our lives.

In case you aren't familiar with the Idea Fairy, that is the evil creature who delivers the world's worst ideas to senior leaders which they immediately act upon without any consideration of the impact said ideas will have.

Today the Idea Fairy delivered the idea to march to class. In formation. Carrying coffee cups and bottles of Coke. Wearing sunglasses. And without calling any type of cadence to keep people in step. So you can imagine how completely ridiculous this looked as a swarm of 30 or so idiots was parading down the street in a huddle. And where was our grand leader? Running ahead of the formation trying to figure out where we were going. Oh wait, so then we sat in class for about 4 hours and gaggle marched back.

Now I'm all about military discipline, doing the right thing, you know the drill. But I am not all about leaders who lead by the book. If this guy could identify every guy in the flight by face, I would be less insulted when he marched us back from class. Or if he could sit in class and actually learn instead of watching his Blackberry all morning. But that's not how it's going. In order to lead Airmen (or people) you have to know them and they have to trust you. It's really that simple.

And here's a hint...if you can't pay attention in class, I don't trust you. If you don't know my name (after week 3), I don't trust you. If you never sit with any of us at any meal, I don't trust you. So now I have to go plan an intervention so that this dude sees what my guys are all seeing...leadership is not "do what I say, not what I do." When you're a leader, people watch you constantly. And you had damn well better be making good decisions.

Phew. What a morning...

03 May 2011

That guy

I'm sure you expect me to write something about how we finally caught Bin Laden, but to be perfectly honest, I don't have a whole lot to say about it. In some ways, I feel like we just took a big kick at a hornet's nest. On the other hand, I feel much safer knowing that the scum of the earth is now literally lying on the bottom of the ocean.

So for now I'll just focus on getting ready to go to Afghanistan, which if you really think about it, existed well before Bin Laden was alive and will exist for thousands of years after he's gone. The only things I can change (even in a small way) are the opportunities for women and children in a country where I really feel like I can make a difference.

And since I'm not a Navy SEAL sharpshooter, I will just reserve my comments to things I am good at...like talking to people.

Nice to hear that the Navy is good at something this week, though, because the Navy reservists who are here with us are making me completely crazy!

02 May 2011

All roads led here

One of the things most people don’t know about me is that I minored in Women’s Studies in college. The other part of that story is well publicized – I was an English major. But the part I talk about less is going to my Women’s Studies classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, wearing a military uniform, and feeling as out of place as you might imagine.

I never imagined myself still wearing that uniform ten years later. I certainly never imagined wearing that uniform in Afghanistan. And of all unlikely circumstances, the thought of using my education, military uniform and life experiences to help shape the future of a country in turmoil was never even a passing thought. Until now.

So here I am, sitting in Starbucks, and thinking about my future in Afghanistan. There are a lot of things I won’t post for the world (where I am, with whom I am meeting, and any other details which I think might cast unnecessary attention on my new temporary life.) But I can tell stories. And I will.

Here is what I am willing to tell you about the next few months of my life. I will be an advisor to the Afghan National Army (ANA), and specifically to the personnel function of the ANA. I will be assigned a female interpreter (one of the few females who fill that role in Afghanistan) and I will be working women’s integration issues. It is no secret that one of the major goals of both the Afghan government and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is to integrate women into at least 10 percent of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police by 2014.

That doesn’t sound like a lofty goal until you truly appreciate the role of women in Afghan society. The way I’ve best heard it described is like this: “Afghan culture is at least 300 years behind ours, and they have no aspirations of catching up.” And no, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Afghanistan may never mirror western culture. I think it’s incredible, and absolutely fascinating. Women traditionally manage families in Afghanistan. Burkas cover their bodies from head to toe and they do not leave the family compound. A little different from America’s female Secretary of State (or the 20 or so percent of women who serve in the American armed forces).

Another well known fact about Afghanistan is that the literacy rate is below 25 percent – that’s another of my big projects while I’m there.  But before we as Americans look at that statistic critically, consider the cultural landscape of Afghanistan, which in my eyes mirrors much of what I’ve seen in other far places in the world.
Afghanistan is comprised of several large cities connected by a single somewhat paved road. Yes, one single somewhat paved road in the entire country. They are a population that is incredibly smart culturally – seeped in tradition, adept at reading social situations, and brave enough to survive more suffering than you and I could ever imagine.

I’m not ready to talk about the bad guys in Afghanistan yet. For right now, my best advice is to take every news story with a grain of salt. While there is surely an ounce of truth in much of what is reported, my job is to help Afghan women develop skills like reading, writing and leadership…and by doing that, I’ll be doing my part to shape the future of a country, its military, and most important to me the women who live there. Yes, there are bad guys and bad situations…which might be more pronounced in Afghanistan than in other places, but let’s be serious...evil is not restricted to this one country.

All roads led me here. And if anyone can think of a better job for me, I’d like to hear it.