Another busy day in a busy week! We had 5 vehicles get stuck in mud and had to stay out on the road (I.e., dirt path) overnight, we had Vice President Cheney visit a FOB we regularly travel to (no, none of us got to see him - we just heard about it), we had 5 members of our team move out to get transferred elsewhere, and I spent the day training a new member of our team - an Air Force sergeant new to Afghanistan.
Today I spent the morning trying to get our tactical radios to work, then trained our new guy on setting up COMSEC (communications security) for our radios, then we checked out our food supply, cleaned machine guns, cooked dinner, and tried to keep our Internet running. I was also told that my move-out date might get pushed back (like I said earlier, change is the only thing you can count on here), so I’m ready to get ready. Until then, “Nous nous continuons,” (We go on), as Sartre put it in “No Exit” (last line of the play). (I can understand how existentialism grew during wartime!)
I am becoming more comfortable with my knowledge and adapting to this environment. It has taken awhile, but I am developing some confidence in thinking I know something about what the hell I’m doing around here to help our mission. It’s a good feeling.
I should explain a little about my background, and why I may feel unconfident at times. As I wrote in a previous article, I joined the National Guard from the Navy Reserves, where I had already served for about 26 years. I was a Senior Chief in the Navy Reserves, and my primary specialty (the Navy calls them ratings) was “Culinary Specialist”, or just plain cook. Now, as an E-8 I supervised cooks - I hadn’t really cooked for years. I had advanced in rank to a point that I was more management and administration than hands-on cooking. Besides that, I rarely worked in my specialty - I had been assigned to supply, Master-At-Arms (security), Career Counseling, a stint as a Platoon Chief with a Seabee battalion, a year in charge of training new Navy Reserve recruits, and ultimately the Senior Enlisted Advisor at our Navy Reserve center. So I hadn’t done a lot of cooking, but I had done a lot of leading and training. But none of this related to Army infantry.
Shortly after I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, and served for two years. The Marines made me a cook, and I was promoted twice, ultimately leaving the Marines after my two year enlistment was over as a Corporal. I enrolled in college, and decided to join the Navy Reserves, where I remained until I transferred to the National Guard. I was going to retire from the Navy Reserves (I had well over 20 years of service needed for retirement), but then after 9-11, I decided to stay. The Navy had little need for me, so I decided to transfer to the National Guard, where I might be more useful.
The National Guard trained me in radio and computer communications, and I was set. When I heard about a chance to serve in Afghanistan, I mentioned I was interested. However, I expected to be put in a position where I would be maintaining communications networks or supervising those who maintained them, not training Afghan soldiers in infantry tactics! So when I received my orders and heard what my assignment was going to be, I had some self-doubt. That doubt was reinforced when I met the other members of my team.
We have members of our team who have already received Bronze Stars for previous mobilizations, and most have had much experience with infantry. It’s not new to them, like it has been for me. But my teammates have been a source of strength and encouragement, and whenever I have a question, they have never failed to help me. We are an outstanding team. I have been on many teams before, good and bad, and I feel this is a truly great team. It is unfortunate we are being divided up, but the mission dictates who goes where to support our ultimate goal.
I feel I am much more ready now to go to the next place and help train the Afghan National Police. Not that I am highly qualified, but I feel confident I can deliver some value. I feel a little like that quote I remember seeing years ago: “We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the unthinkable for the ungrateful. We have done so much with so little for so long, we are now able to do anything with nothing!” Amen!
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
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,
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.