In my re-introductions to Red Bull leaders and soldiers here in Afghanistan, I'm still working on getting my task and purpose down to a manageable 25 words or less. Maybe I've worn too many hats and too many masks for there to be a simple answer. Still, I'll admit that to some small pleasure in causing people to do a double-take, when they see me out of usual context--in country but out of uniform.
After multiple attempts, the best I've been able to muster is that I'm a "freelance historian writing a book about the Red Bull deployment." That seems to contain most of the right sentiments:
- I'm not necessarily writing for immediate publication.
- I might be working at a larger scale or word count than a just a couple of newspaper or magazine articles. Hence, the mention of a "book."
- I'm trying to capture not only the "what" of the deployment, but the "why" and "how."
In many ways, I'm continuing some of the same roles I pursued while I was a uniformed member of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th "Red Bull" Division. As a Knowledge Management (K.M.) guy for the 2-34th BCT, it was partly my job to ask questions about how things get done, and to document and disseminate stories of success throughout the organization.
There are many such stories of success to be found here. Hardship, too. And sacrifice. But the thing I've found so gratifying is that you can see progress here. Perhaps more accurately: You can sense progress here. Together with its Afghan and coalition partners, the Red Bulls here in Laghman Province, at least, seem to have have brought together the conditions necessary toward more Afghan self-protection and -policing, self-government, self-development.
In Army-speak: That's the "security," "governance" and "development" lines of effort. You can't have one without the others.
Of course, transition to full Afghan governmental control is best still considered a journey, not a destination. I am pleased that so many soldiers can articulate not only what it's been like to be separated so long from friends, family, and the farm fields of Iowa, but how they feel they've made a difference on the ground in Afghanistan.
It is a story I look forward to telling and re-telling.
I find that I'm doing a lot of interviews on the fly and on the run, with a digital recorder in hand. I'm filling up notepad after waterproof notepad, too, but it's still hard to keep up with some sources. My shorthand isn't want it used to be. Neither is my penmanship. I'm sure that means many painful weeks of transcription when I return to Iowa later this summer.
In the meantime, my dispatches may seem somewhat random, and perhaps not as considered or comprehensive as I'd like. I do not have regular Internet access; when I do manage to borrow a cup of connectivity from strangers, my priority is first to write my wife and kids, to tell them where I am and how much I miss them.
I look forward to telling them some stories, too.