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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Happy Surprise
January 19, 2007

      God is good, and my karma must be positive.  We have a chance to go home and visit our families after all.

      One thing I have learned is to be prepared for anything, good or bad.  Change will come - be ready for it!

      Our class of over 500 Soldiers (and some Air Force personnel - an important part of our team) graduated this morning, having completed over 8 weeks of training on combat skills. 

      Our class included teams such as ours from across the United States and included Soldiers from foreign countries who now serve in the Armed Forces of our country.  It included National Guard Soldiers from several different states.  It included Active Duty Army Soldiers.  It included Active Duty Air Force personnel.  It included people who had been to either Iraq or Afghanistan before.  We all completed the same training, to ensure we were all at least familiar with the important essentials of our mission.

      We learned about small arms weapons (both ours and those of the Afghan Army): firing everything from pistols to machine guns and grenade launchers.  We learned radio communications: how to program them, operate them, and speak over a tactical network (the basic rule of thumb is use a few words as possible - Keep off the air unless there’s something important to say).  We got rolled over in a simulated HUMWWV accident, and learned how to escape if this happens.  We learned how to see, fire weapons, and even drive at night without lights, using night vision devices.

      We learned about preparing for almost any type of weather - what to pack, what to leave behind, and when.  We learned about planning and conducting building raids and searches.  We learned to be aware of everything around us, and what to look for that may harm us.  We learned about bombs - ours and theirs.

      We learned about the Afghan culture, a land which has seen generations of war, from the days of the Persians to Alexander the Great to the Muslim conquerors to the last days of the Soviet Union.  We learned a little of their language: Dari, an offshoot of Persian and Arabic, unique to Afghanistan.  We learned about the ethnic groups and tribal rivalries.  We learned about how to communicate, and how not to.

      I am now flying home, aglow in the realization the training is over.  It has not been particularly fun; in fact, it has been difficult at times, boring at times, and even painful at times.  I have learned from many mistakes, both my own and others.  The best part of learning from mistakes made in training is that they don’t cost much in terms of human suffering - the only real loss is a little pride.  It’s practice time - better to learn now than on “game day.”

      At this point, we’re still not sure exactly where we will be or what we will be doing.  We don’t even have a postal address for forwarding mail.  We have heard several iterations of reports and rumors, but the only certainty is that we will go to Afghanistan, probably in the southeastern part.  The rest we’ll find out when we get there.  For now, that’s information enough for me.

      The graduation ceremony was short and sweet.  We stood at attention for the arrival of the official party, saluted during the National Anthem, and sang the Army song.  We listened to the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard exhort us to live with honor and commitment, in order to make a difference in the place we will be.  It was a good speech - short, to the point, and encouraging.

      Speaking of encouraging, one of our teammates had been downcast for most of the week, because he was unable to convince his wife to come visit him for graduation.  Or so he thought.  Unknown to him, she had driven several hours to come and see him and surprised him by showing up at the ceremony.  (She had planned all along to stay with him for the few days we are off.)  His usually solemn face couldn’t stop smiling.  It was clearly a wonderful surprise for him.  We were all happy for him.

      My homecoming will not be a surprise (my surprise came a few days earlier, when we were told we would be able to go home to visit, after having been told we would not be able to go home at all), but I will probably be just as happy.  I’ve been looking forward to this visit a lot.  It will be my last visit home for a long time.

-- Jeff Courter

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.