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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Preparing for War in a Season of Peace
December 7 , 2006

    It’s almost the end of our second week of full-time training.  Our normal day begins at 5:00 AM, when we wake up and get dressed and ready for the day.  Usually we have some activity, such as exercise, at 6:00, before breakfast.  Lately, though, we have had to get ready for class by 6:30.

      Getting up before dawn takes a bit of getting used to, but we’ve all adapted by now.  It’s usually pretty quiet in the morning, with lights off until 5:15.  By that time, though, most of us are up and almost dressed, usually dressing by flashlight.

      I share a large room with about 40 other men of varying ranks and service: our team comprised of National Guardsmen, a team of full-time Army medics, and a team of full-time Air Force personnel.  We are all being trained to go to Afghanistan as parts of different embedded training teams.

      Unfortunately, we spend a good amount of time waiting, often outdoors in the cold.  We complain some, but it’s not unusual for plans to get mixed up - we usually have at least one major change per day in our schedule.  The team conducting our training are doing the best they can to juggle the schedules of a couple thousand people going through various elements of training at different times with a limited amount of space and training resources.  When we get to Afghanistan, the patience we learn from this waiting will be even more necessary.

      The training has been interesting - I’ve been turned upside down in a simulated vehicle rollover, ran into a smoke-filled building that simulated a mortar attack, traveled through the virtual-reality streets of Baghdad on an armed convoy, and drove a truck at night with night vision goggles, all within this last week.  We’ve been busy, and we still have most of our training to go.

      One of our language trainers is a gentleman from Afghanistan who told us something of the culture and language of his home country.  We are learning rudimentary Dari, the official language of the Afghan Army, although the base we will deploy to will be located in an area which primarily speaks Pashtu.  It’s hard to imagine a country which speaks multiple languages and dialects in an area the size of Texas, but that’s the situation.

      As for the written language, most Afghanis cannot read nor write, but the alphabet itself is a derivative of Arabic.  Afghan language is not Arabic, but their writing is very similar, even if the words are different (similar to English and most European languages sharing a common alphabet).  The Afghans themselves do not consider themselves Arabs, though they are Muslims.

      The gentleman teaching us Dari spoke of how helping us made him “full of joy.”  His word “joy” seemed to mean more like “satisfaction” or “appreciation” than what we normally associate with the word “joy.”  I found this interesting - perhaps the Middle Eastern concept of joy itself is different from our Western idea of joy.  Is this what the Gospels meant when the angels came proclaiming “tidings of great joy?”

      It has become the season of Advent, that time leading to Christmas, when one sees decorations everywhere.  The Battalion Headquarters office (a large trailer) has a string of lights and a bow outside.  It seems oddly incongruent here - in fact, I haven’t had much of the Christmas spirit at all since I’ve arrived here.  Thoughts of Christmas and the memories of Christmas magic has been replaced by a more stern reality.  I am preparing for war, and for survival.  There is not much room for sentimentalism here.

      While the sentimentalism may be absent, I have prayed more these past two weeks than I have in a few months.  I think of my family, and I pray for them.  While I wait, during the long times between training, often sitting in silence with the team, waiting together, I take time to ask God to be with them.

      It is indeed ironic that my favorite season of the year, Christmas, the season of hope, joy, and the wish for peace on Earth, goodwill toward men is the time I am training for war.  The very fact I feel this is necessary makes me sad.  It’s sad that our world has still not learned from the founders of the religions which today war against one another.  I’m sure Jesus and Mohammed would both agree this is wrong.

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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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.