guhlam’s golden governance and other wroorwali stories.

Early on in our deployment we realized that of the 50 some odd government officials “working” in Qalat City on a daily basis there were perhaps 4 that interacted with the populace on a daily basis and even less that traveled outside the walls of a government compound to meet with the people where they live and work (this is not including the 3 top security officials in the ANA, ANP and NDS). We identified that this was a problem, especially when the government is supposed to be the servant of the people and so few officials are Zabul natives to begin with. With the high speed commander we had we were soon tasked with figuring out how to solve this problem and Operation Wroorwali was born.

One of the early Wroorwali shuras in Omarkhel

The first task at hand was to come up with a way to intentionalize (not a real word but a real word in the military) which villages we interact with since obviously attacking all the villages in the Province or even district of Qalat City was out of the question. So we enlisted the help of our trusted governor’s advisors to begin to compose a list of the 25 most influential villages in the districts of Qalat and Shah Joy. Villages that if they turned “green” they would spread to and influence other villages to do the same, this is sometimes known as the ink-stain/oil-spot theory. That a concentrated effort in the right place will spread to affect the areas around it. In conjunction to identifying these key villages the PRT would identify a lead to sponsor these villages, charged with coordinating a government official to visit the village and identify how the government could reach out to the villagers.

Operation Wroorwali had its share of challenges: villages not willing to talk with government officials, government officials not willing to show up to go and meet with villages, meeting with people other than the true elders because of fear of retribution from the insurgents, government officials not following up on any of the issues of the villagers because “that’s not their job”. Just a few of the frustrations that encountered us. Luckily, like most of the problems, there were those few successes that kept us motivated and able to overcome the many non-successes.

Guhlam getting his governance on with the villagers of Jangora.

My village was Jangora and when I went on R&R Georganne took up the reins for me with us finishing together. After an unsuccessful first visit we called in the elders to meet with us at the Gov’s compound hoping that would garner some leads…and it did. The Executive Director for the Governor’s Office was suckered into sitting in on the meeting at the last minute after the Deputy Govenor decided he didn’t want to. This turned out to be great. Over the next few months the Exec Director, with much persistence from us, continued to contact the villagers and went to visit them twice.

Me and Georganne playing with some kids during the shura in Jangora. Don't worry we were paying attention too!

At the 2 month point of having karez cleaning supplies stored in a CONEX on our base and waiting for the villagers to come pick them up (we had Guhlam call about 2x/week) we decided to go and visit again and bring a sample so we could show them that we did in fact have them. This theory worked. Guhlam sat down with the elders and convinced them to come that day and pick up the supplies. Sure enough that afternoon (though an hour late) the representative showed up and picked up the supplies under Guhlam’s supervision. I can’t explain how exciting this was. I was proud, Guhlam was proud, such a small thing created so much satisfaction. Thus Guhlam’s Golden Governance was born, he is a self-proclaimed influential man and available for consultation and hire.

One more story from Wroorwali. Another of the villages agreed to accept supplies to help rebuild their mosque but the villager we were working with didn’t want anyone to know he was working with us. This man was so concerned about someone turning him in to the Taliban for cooperating with the government and ISAF that there was a secret code used when phone calls were made.

  1. Only Afghans were allowed to call him or answer the phone…if someone stole his phone and called the number and an American answered he would be in big trouble.
  2. When we called him first thing we would ask is: “is this mohammad adbdul?” Once again we need to make sure that someone else isn’t answering his phone. He would answer “ yes ” which we would reply “which mohammad abdul is this?” and he would reply to this final test with “mohammad abdul with the badge” referencing the badge he was given when he came to the PRT to meet about the supplies.
  3. After this was complete then business could be addressed and taken care of. You can’t make this stuff up!

Ultimately Operation Wroorwali should be turned over to the battle space owners with government officials and project coordination being the PRT’s primary involvement but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully there will continue to be benefits to this program since it did do a great job of increasing the amount of contact government officials had with villagers (from about 4 people to about 15 people) and the amount of time government officials spent with the populace (increasing by approximately 1150%). But like so many things when building governance capacity it takes a lot of patience and energy and many failures and set backs for a single success to occur, like delivering karez cleaning supplies.


The Jangora villager with his karez cleaning supplies.

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I have a lot of posts that I’ve typed up and have yet to post so with the good internet connection here at Manas I’m going to post them now. It’s looking like I’ll be home sometime this weekend. can’t wait!! an actual update soon, i promise 🙂

love ya!

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What a difference a ribbon makes.

If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning you’ve heard the saga of getting funding for the government radio station, if not basically it’s been a royal pain in the but figuring out what equipment is necessary to ensure the radio keeps the broadcast range when we relocate from a ANA compound on a hill to next to the Provincial Governor’s office downtown to increase access by both government officials and the general populace. After much “googling” and contract writing me and my team got it all figured out, paperwork submitted and funding obtained.

I won’t see the project come to fruition with the completion of the building but I was able to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony last month. In Afghanistan the groundbreaking isn’t the big deal….it’s the laying of the cornerstone…man it was experience to say the least.

Prepping the cornerstones.

My fellow IO partner in crime wandered up to the new location a short distance from the FOB thinking it was going to be a short ceremony, eat some cake maybe, drink some fanta and call it a morning. We were right for the most part but nothing could have prepared us for the cornerstones. When everyone finally arrived (about 30 min late of course) and the ceremony was about to begin we saw several of the staff taking something out of a plastic bag…a large piece of ribbon with bows and flowers tied to it. They then proceeded to tie this ribbon around 3 large rocks. We had to do everything we could to not crack up laughing when we saw this taking place…it was so typically Afghan we weren’t sure why we were surprised. After a few moments of figuring out the best technique the ribbon was tied and ready to go.

me laying the cornerstone...yes!

The Director of Youth, Information and Culture, the radio station director and yours truly each got to lay one of these lovely rocks. Complete with pausing to pose for the several media outlets present to capture the moment. There were brief remarks made by each of us followed by refreshments and that was it. I had heard about these cornerstone layings but was quite thankful to get to be part of one…it was so typically Afghan I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


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The conference in the castle.

Sorry this post is so incredibly overdue. But better late than never so here’s the latest and greatest! Good news is that hopefully this will be one of my last posts since my time in Zabul is coming to an end…I should be heading home in the next 2 weeks, inshallah. But let’s not jump ahead…in an effort to catch up on my adventures I’ll try to focus on one thing at a time for the next couple posts.

With the end of the fiscal year approaching our engineers had a lot of projects they were trying to push through the funding and contracting process the last few weeks. Since there were so many projects ready to bid at the same time they held a bidder’s conference to get all the projects out to many of our contractors at the same time. Great idea right?! I thought so! One of the projects being bid out was for a park to be built in the capital city. I’m not going to get into the politics involved in why are we funding a park when we have issues like paving roads and open sewers to deal with but the short of it is I support it and will be glad to explain why at another time. Anywho, in order to give the contractor’s the best view of the land that would be used for the park they decided to host the conference on Alexander’s Castle, a large fortress (or hill but fortress sounds cooler) that overlooks the city and currently serves as a Afghan National Army compound. (side note: The story goes that when Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan he had a castle up there but historians only place the ruins in the 1800’s…once again Alexander’s Castle is way better story so we go with that. back to the story…) What a great opportunity to give the contractors the chance to view their city from a place they don’t normally have access and view the park land!


Hanging out atop the castle before the conference started...SSG Washington must have said something funny


The government radio station is also located on top of Alexander’s Castle (to get the most bang for their buck with the broadcast range) so Georganne and I decided to tag along to chat with the radio staff and do some planning for the radio move for the next team.  Well I would have rethought my plans if I had known that it was going to be a foot patrol…now I’ve been doing my fair share of crossfit and cardio recently but that hike up the hill kicked my butt! Didn’t help that when we got to the top one of our government counterparts immediately said to me “you look tired”…oh really? Maybe because I just hiked up a hill with 60+ pounds of gear on…but get back in your vehicle you just drove up in. geez…someone needs to teach him when jokes aren’t funny…they weren’t funny then.


The bidder's conference in full swing in the glass tea house on Alexander's picture huh?


But once we got to the top it made for some great photos and the visit to the radio station was successful also. Overall a great mission/PT session that I’ll remember 🙂

Speaking of Alexander the Great, I’ve been going through Beth Moore’s Bible Study “Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy” during this deployment. While it is designed to be a 12-week study like most of my Beth studies they last much longer and this one was sufficient for just about this whole deployment. I have learned so much during this study and am so thankful my dear friend Rachel who sent it to me. I learned that one of the prophecies Daniel received was about 4 Gentile kingdoms that would rule over Israel…one was the Greeks thanks to Alexander the Great, so it seemed quite appropriate to be living in the shadow of possibly one of his fortresses the past 8 months. One of my favorite things about Daniel is how God used him to influence the ruler of the world at the time (the king of babylon) but Daniel was just trying to live his life for his God. What an honor to be so focused on serving that your life is an example to those around you of our God. I pray to be like Daniel in this Babylon we live in. To be focused on serving my God and letting what come may…

“At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find ground for charges against Daniel in conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” Daniel 6:4

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In our time.

The holiday of Eid is just about upon us. Eid commemorates the end of the month of fasting known as Ramadan (or Ramazan as the Afghans pronounce it). Ramadan has been challenging in many ways for many people. For the Afghans, and Muslims worldwide, it is a month of fasting and reflection. This obviously has had physical implications for them as their energy and mental focus is less than normal and as we try to meet with our Government counterparts we are often met with never ending ringing on the other end of the phone or simply the recorded message letting us know that the phone is off. This doesn’t happen ALL the time, but I’d say about 60% of the time you aren’t going to get someone when you try to. Of course we try to be respectful and understanding of this very important time for them but at the same time when you’ve been away from everyone you love for the past 10 months your patience grows thin when you can’t accomplish the mission you’ve been given to do. But alas we take a deep breath and try and do something else until later in the day or try again tomorrow morning. We estimate that the original 3-day celebration of Eid we were told about should be over in 5-6 and things should be back to some semblance of normalcy…Afghan normal that is.

This week has been incredibly challenging for I’d say 85% of my teammates. Us, like the Afghans, are growing physically and mentally weary of the task we’ve been given. We are going to take the next week or so to slow the pace down as the Afghans hold their celebrations and then try to restart operations as normal for the remainder of our time here. We had a meeting tonight to talk about what each of the team leads is working on and there is so much energy going into this Province right now. I am so proud of so many of my teammates for simply doing the task they’ve been given with everything they’ve got. I know so many of us have learned so much about ourselves and what we want out of life as a result of our time here. I can’t wait to talk to people after we’ve been back in the States for a while and see how life is treating them because they are definitely giving it all they’ve got here.

Until next time I’ll just continue to reflect upon these words: “Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.” Ronald Reagan

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Celebrating Milestones.

Since the beginning of this journey last October, the days have been counted down by celebrating milestones and events.

Training at Ft Sill, arriving at Camp Atterbury, Thanksgiving, full team arrives at Atterbury, Christmas, SECFOR arrives, Butch’s Birthday, depart for Afghanistan, arrive at FOB Smart, Easter, Dad’s surgery, Steph’s Birthday, Mom’s Birthday, Rachel and Katy’s Birthday, losing 2 teammates, Katy’s Wedding, Bo’s Birthday, arrival of Nathanael and Georganne, Steph’s Wedding, my Birthday (and a significant day to celebrate the restoration of a relationship of dear friends), R&R, Butch’s trip to Tonga, Bo starts school, Parents’ Anniversary…that’s where we are so far, there are a couple more than will be celebrated before my time is up too.

And while there are tons of things that I have missed it is good to know that life goes on and it makes catching up with people that much more interesting since I can assure you, your day to day life is much more exciting than mine. I am also very thankful for Skype and Facebook that let me be a small part of two of my best friends weddings and the amazing care package that arrived as a result. It’s just all part of being in the military I suppose.

But as I reflect on all of these things I can’t help but wonder what a 25-year-old female here uses to pass the time.

We’re in the midst of Ramadan and Eid will soon be here. We’ve celebrated Mujahadeen Victory Day and Afghan Independence Day (which was last week and I found out when I scheduled a meeting and then no one showed up for it). Will her life ever be able to be like mine? Will she ever want her life to like mine? I hope that she can reflect on her days and have a smile come to her face because of the people in it like me. I don’t know how much I can impact that myself but I do know that until one of those final milestones of departing FOB Smart comes I’ll do my best to do what the land that I love has asked of me, I supposed that’s just being part of the military too.

(Happy 27th Anniversary Dad and Mom! Love you!)

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The surge and prepping for the final sprint.

So I’ve been back at the FOB for a week now. I can’t believe it’s already been a week but it’s ONLY been a week. The first days back were full of excitement for me. I really was reenergized to attack this task that has been given to me and 15 days away dulled some of the daily frustrations that had begun to consume me. But after a week unfortunately I’m experiencing the frustrations again just without the memory that they are daily ones that must be dealt with. One of my teammates reminded me yesterday “this is how you felt before you left you just forgot.”

Despite the frustrations there is much to celebrate if we can focus on the positive and forward movements…though sometimes its easier to see only the former. Thanks to my amazing fellow PAO pretending to be an IO officer Georganne the radio station/media center was funded!!! This is great since I’ve literally been working on this since the day I arrived on the FOB. We are bidding it out to contractors on Saturday and hopefully in about 10 days we’ll have ground broken at the new site. This will help pave the way for a reenergized relationship the Provincial government can have with the local independent media representatives by giving them a place to call their own to work out of rather than the office they’ve been squatting in at the Governor’s office. We have money to hire 20 religious and cultural advisors for the Provincial government as well…which will help GREATLY connecting the people with the government.

It was great to come back to all these things and with kind of a clean slate to plan for our final months in country…being able to focus in on those 1 or 2 other projects that I really want to invest my time and energy in. Hopefully it will keep me busy and allow the days to FLY by though going home does mean going back to a place where I don’t have a car or a place to stay for at least a month then moving to Hawaii where I know no one and despite my best efforts can’t even begin to comprehend where home will be there…or what sort of car I’ll want to have, I’ll have to acquire one of those too somehow. Sometimes just trying to find an interpreter to make a phone call for me seems like an easier task.

But there are some amazing things and amazing people awaiting me back in the States and I can’t wait to spend time with them and move forward on this crazy adventure God has me on. It is going to be quite an adjustment for me though…getting away for just that short time gave me a peak at what reintegration is going to be like and I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it. I think I’m going to come up with a blanket 5 min schpeel I’ll give when people ask me how my deployment was and then direct them to this blog for more details. This has been a great experience that I am so thankful to have had but when it’s over I’m going to be happy to leave it in the past and move forward with the lessons I’ve learned.

No pictures today, nothing too exciting I’ve been up to lately though our photographer has gotten some great images…I encourage you to check out his blog or Georganne’s I shared in the previous post for some help visualizing what we’ve been up to.

Until next time…thanks for all the notes and packages…I appreciate them more than you know. Talk to you soon!!!


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