Col. Ibrahim, Col. Asif, AfghaniDan, Gen. Azimi, Maj. Daoud
Thanksgiving in Kabul, 2010...
The post title "Roze-e Tashakuri" essentially translates to "Day of Thanks." There is a great deal for which I am thankful this year, and Thursday presented some pretty unexpected reminders of some I hadn't considered. It was the designated day for a high-level conference and working group between my advisees at the Defense Ministry, their counterparts from Pakistan, and a number of folks from ISAF (the NATO-led coalition command). You know it was an odd Thanksgiving when the highlights were: Seeing your general and colonels in uniform instead of their usual suits; appearing on NBC's Today show in an extended crowd shot outside of where you eat your meals each day; and deciding that the Afghan feast you had for lunch was far better than the "traditional" dinner everyone awaited with great anticipation.
It turned out that I was thankful to spend a holiday like this one -- so sacred for family functions in the US -- with "my boys" from the ministry. It is extremely rare for all of the Dagarwaals (Colonels), Dagarmans (LtCols) and the Major General whom I advise to be gathered together in one place, and I considered myself really fortunate to be there with them. Perhaps it was sealed by all of the "main commander" ribbing from Asif (who loves to call me that after General Azimi dropped that on me in a meeting), or the back-and-forth whispering throughout the meeting with utterly insane Daoud (who is going to break my ribs one of these days with his "I can crush you" Pashtun bear hugs), or the re-entrance of Azimi himself -- after all the VIPs had gone -- to ask "Where is the Major?", since he hadn't yet wished me a happy holiday. (Story by that Huvane guy who's always writing about Azimi...)
One funny moment I must share: At one point in the meeting, which had run almost 2 hours past its scheduled break for lunch, the Afghans brought in a folding table from outside to set food upon. As they draped a tablecloth over it, and then those buffet-serving dealies (you know, with the top that pulls open in an overly unwieldy way?), I thought immediately of Snoopy setting up Thanksgiving dinner outside in that Peanuts holiday classic. I haven't seen that in quite a few years, yet still, folding table + tablecloth + food = memories of that scene. And there it was, in the "Tea House" of the Ministry of Defense, Kabul.
It never turned out to be much of a holiday in the labor sense, but there were a bunch of enjoyable moments back at the base too, squeezed in between the work and more work. Busy is always good here, especially during something like Thanksgiving: it wasn't until my 2am phone call to the family when I really remembered what I was missing.
Some other things for which I am thankful:
- My team. Esmat, Johnny Kabul, Pam, Joe, Qais and Dave are the greatest people I could possibly work with. I'd serve alongside any one of them again, anywhere. Working arrangements are always temporary in a business such as this, but this is one team I'd have looked to keep intact somehow.
- Donations to my moustache fund. People, it's not easy keeping that hideous rat on my lip, particularly as it tries to grow to some respectability while staying within strict Marine grooming regulations. But some of you have shown great generosity already in giving to the fight against prostate cancer...the worthy cause which ended my career-long refusal to grow a deployment 'stache. And you honor this effort when you do! (It's not too late -- chip in if you like...)
- Hot water (usually). Bountiful food (though "edible" can often be considered a stretch). And a culture which fosters a tradition such as senior officers serving up food to the troops. Some of our higher-ups got their Afghan principals into the act as well, in a few of those forward posts...where generals from our side and theirs stood side by side, dishing out grub to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians. Pretty cool, that.
- A position of responsibility, at such a crucial juncture for Afghanistan. Sure, if I've learned nothing else, it is that time is continuous and so is human history...so maybe none of this will much matter in the grand scheme of things in a century, or even a half. But the moment is palpable here. And though it's hard to see through many daily frustrations, I've got an important job doing meaningful work (some of you who comment have really helped me see that -- I thank YOU too!).
- Those who keep us safe. As much as I lament being here in the bubble of Headquarters land while comrades in arms put their lives on the line every day in some parts of the country, I am thankful for what I have. The forces which keep Kabul safe have done an amazing job...I shudder to think of how ridiculous our already-ridiculous force protection policies would be if it were actually still a dangerous place. I'm not being shot at, or going out on patrols through mine-infested farmland...and for that I do give thanks.