Multinational Memorial Day
This evening I caught a somber Memorial Day ceremony at Camp Eggers, which included as a participant the widow (also military herself) of the slain Army captain after whom the camp is named. I've been deployed for a few Memorial Day ceremonies before, and even seen participation by one or more U.S. allies, but this was by far the most global one yet in my experience. Afghanistan's national anthem was played in addition to our own, and a NATO anthem stood in for our many partners in that alliance. The roll call of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians was a particularly poignant reminder of the price paid so far in this conflict, by some estimates now the longest war in American history. I found it fitting that the evening call to prayer went out in a neighborhood beyond during the ceremony, and wondered how many of the longest- or most-deployed service members on hand even hear it anymore. The following photos are from my vantage point in the back...I didn't have the best spot or a slick camera handy, but wanted to show the scene to you all back home anyway.
The Hindu Kush in the background, the hundreds of troops in working uniform in the foreground -- paused in the evening of another long day of work --serve as reminders that this isn't your usual beach weekend or neighborhood bbq Memorial Day. In fact, the upside of the endless workdays are that there aren't many opportunities to dwell on what's missed in the holiday weekend back in the States. More important than that to me is the peace I feel in knowing that those around me are here because they want to be here, making a dangerous part of the world safer. The peace jirga (council) begins in the next few days, and most of NTM-A (NATO Training Mission -- Afghanistan) is hopeful that some agreements can be made which will lead to greater collective peace and security. At the same time, everyone knows that the road ahead is no less fraught with pain and tragedy as it was yesterday or the day before that. Just a few days ago, another newly-constructed school was destroyed in Khost (where I spent most of my last AfghaniDan deployment), denying 1,300 teenage kids an opportunity to learn. That kind of news is always a bit heartbreaking and tests the resolve; I suppose the key is to believe that better sense and humanity wins out.
A more pressing problem for the government of Afghanistan right now is the insurgent takeover of a village in Nuristan and their renewed strength in Kunar province, another old stomping ground of mine. While the long term objective of the people there is probably just to be left alone, the Taliban takes advantage of it for now. Sitting in meetings with officials of the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of the Interior, I see signs of a government more capable now of confronting problems than it has been yet, and other signs that utter dependence will remain the state of affairs for some time to come. There will be quite a few more Memorial Days in Afghanistan for our military forces, no matter what withdrawal start date is eventually announced.
Remembering a Marine, Step by Step