A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Trailblazing women

Grinnin' in the helo. Photo by Zachary Wolf.

So what was the mission that took not just my sizeable entourage (ahem, yes), but Defense Minister Wardak, General Karimi (Chief of Afghan General Staff), Lt. Gen. Caldwell (my commanding general), Maj. Gen. Azimi (my advisee), and a couple dozen other folks -- including more NATO and Afghan generals -- by helicopter to a training center on the edge of Kabul?  It was an historic event, of course...the commissioning of 29 new lieutenants from the Afghan National Army's first Officer Candidate School class exclusively for females.  After a rigorous selection and 20 weeks of training by Coalition and Afghan instructors and mentors, the newly minted officers were ready to pin on their bars, and the minister and generals recognized the significance with a special awards ceremony the day before their actual graduation...and I was fortunate enough to be asked along.

More brilliant shots from Sr. Airman Wolf.

This is Major Dan to ground control...I'm (not) stepping through the door...but I'm sitting with a most unusual crew-ew...

A defense minister and a bucket full o' generals don't travel light!

Reservoir Dogs, Kabul style.

 Kabul Military Training Center, jewel of the ANA training grounds.

This moment of arrival was sudden, and spectacular.  The minister and his entourage sort of came on line as they strode briskly toward the headquarters building, then abruptly stopped.  The major with the sword barked out an order to his assembled honor guard platoon, then approached -- displaying skillful sword trickery over his head and around his torso while marching in huge steps.  I wish there was video (and wish I could post it if there was).  He then planted himself where you see him above, welcomed Wardak to his facility, and presented honors.  It was more martial in tone and execution than anything this side of Parris Island!

 Do we call him Jagran (Major, his rank) or a Tauran (Captain, also Swordsman)? Either would apply in his case.

 Another place with glimpses of what Kabul was, and could be...

The entrance to HQ has a 1960's futuristic feel to it. I dig it.

While shut out of the ceremony with most coalition visitors (what, you weren't expecting 50 extra guests?), I explored the grounds.

Back inside, the new Lts were lauded for their perseverance.
(more photos by Wolf, who was inside...)

As the men do, they commit to Afghanistan with a shout:
"I am ready to serve my country!"

The minister thanked each advisor for their groundbreaking efforts.

Girl power!

That this commissioning happened at all is no small achievement in a country as fiercely patriarchal as Afghanistan.  The women who now wear the rank of 2nd Lt. (Bridman) in the army will almost certainly not be sent to combatant units, but will still likely face constant abuse from a culture that largely opposes their presence in the military.  They have serious intestinal fortitude to do this, and each says the same thing, according to the coalition instructors who guided them through training: they want only to serve their nation and its people.  There is so much to admire in that simple yet strong sentiment. 

"Awww, why did I have to draw guard duty TODAY???"
The most miserable cadet-recruit guard on the planet.

"Wait, yours says 'organ donor' too? What the hell?"

Flanked by women warriors are an Afghan minister and general, two American generals, and a tall British brigadier with an even taller pom-pom. And still, a terrified teenage guard.

Every time I see that very colorful headgear, I am reminded of the line Michael Collins supposedly said to the nattily attired official when accepting the transfer of British authority in Ireland to the Irish..."Do I get to wear that hat?"  The stodgy official was less than I'd imagine the brigadier may be when I attempt that line here in Kabul.

I'm gonna pop into my space pod and go visit the Jetsons. See ya!

Though cameras swarmed the VIPs, the heroes of the day were these new officers and their proud instructors.

Joyfully celebrating a mission accomplished, the trainers cut loose.

For more on the day's significance, check out this excellent story covering the occasion by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez...

NTM-A news: New Female Lieutenants Commissioned into Afghan Army

A scrumptious lunch spread that was delicious, I heard...was too busy checking out the post-ceremonial scene downstairs.

...and meeting with Maj. Shapoor, the media maven of KMTC.

"...and everywhere that Wardak went, the lambs were sure to go..."

Another great shot by Zach Wolf, of the slick aircrew in action.

Our chariots depart into the late Summer Kabul dust.

What kind of societal leap do these women take by joining the first class of female Afghan Army officers in decades?  Boys are so desired, and so free to work and play -- and girls so much less so -- that many families in Afghanistan decide to 'pass off' a girl as a boy for a number of years.  Read the fascinating details of it here, and see the quick quotes beyond the link...

“And I know it’s very hard for you to believe why one mother is doing these things to their youngest daughter. But I want to say for you, that some things are happening in Afghanistan that are really not imaginable for you as a Western people.”

As a woman and as a politician, she said it worried her that despite great efforts and investments from the outside world to help Afghan women, she has seen very little change, and an unwillingness to focus on what matters.
“They think it’s all about the burqa,” she said. “I’m ready to wear two burqas if my government can provide security and a rule of law. That’s O.K. with me. If that’s the only freedom I have to give up, I’m ready.”

It's a crazy world we live in, wouldn't you say?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great posts as always - Jeannine

October 6, 2010 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Weezie said...

You continue to crack me up! Love the Jetsons reference, girl power!, "this is Major Dan to ground control", etc... you get funnier by the blog! LMAO! Also love "everywhere that Wardak went, the lambs were sure to go" --
Miss you!!

October 8, 2010 at 6:28 AM  
Anonymous Bridman Goo said...

Excellent post! That is really admirable for all those women to be taking on that responsibility in the Afghan army- I know we at home can't fully fathom women's role in their society, but to step up and lead soldiers shows a true sense of duty and service to their country!
...oh and nice commentary, Jagran- always an enjoyable read :) (and I echo weez about the references, salud!)

October 8, 2010 at 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sad about the volunteers. It takes great courage to go to a foreign, war torn country. We pray for them and you always. Looking forward to your safe home-coming.
Love, AB

October 13, 2010 at 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Kerrie said...

What a great post. I found your blog through a link from my writing class. Our assignment was to write about what makes a great military blog. I used your blog as an example (using correct citations of course!) because you have done an excellent job of remaining so positive throughout your service, and you present your experiences very well to someone with no idea of what military life is like. Thank you for your dedication.

October 20, 2010 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thanks, everyone! Kerrie, it was especially nice of you to say what you did - I often complain that with little feedback, I don't know if sacrificing sleep for a blog is worth it. Your comment makes it worth it...all of yours do!

October 24, 2010 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger yomistast said...

I didn't know the World's Fair is in Kabul.

Excellent post. Those women seem to be the Rosa Parks of their generation.

October 24, 2010 at 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Al-Slappee said...

A few weeks late to the party, I echo all of the above. (As Weezie said, the photo captions in particular are eliciting belly laughs over here ...)

"Don't you mind ... Paco grinnin' ... in yo' helo ... !"

November 2, 2010 at 8:56 PM  

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