August 2011

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.

August has come and gone in a flurry of activity. The Canadian team arrived!  It has been like an old friend returning and they will be here for 8 months or so. The French team has swapped out again. The French team stays for 3 months, barely enough time to grasp the mission, develop relationships, and be effective.  This mission is far too difficult to be here for that short period of time.


So why is this mission so difficult? Why are we losing sleep, becoming short tempered, fighting anxiety, easily forgetting simple things…? We are not continually getting shot at like the “true heroes of this war”, our senior Army leaders like to point out.  

The difference in this mission resides in the simple fact of cause and effect.  When one person can change an entire course of a project, much pressure and anxiety exists.  Expectations, as unrealistic as they may be, are put in front of you and the plan is to pick it up and make it happen.  But, if the project is something like a building, if progress is slow, so what?  If a fire breaks out we say, its just a building, just money, so sad but we can rebuild.  Many missions make up this Counter Insurgency (COIN) plan, and few, if any, are harder than the medical one.  Many teams have come, and all have been broken.  So why is it different? Is this supposed to be easy? No big deal? Automatic results? What is it about this mission that makes it unique?

What we do is change the course of the lives of the people in Afghanistan.  We mentor healthcare providers to alter the trajectory of life of their brothers and sisters.  So when we see things going bad, when patients are at their weakest, when the soul of Afghanistan slips between our aged fingers… we fail.  We fail but, it can’t be rebuilt, it isn’t just money, the building or vehicle remains but the soul is gone.  So when people ask, “why was it so hard?” It’s because it’s not what but, who we have failed. They once thought about the future, they felt the rain on their face, they tasted the sweetness of summer in a watermelon, and walked amongst the innocence of children at play.

But, we are not here to “do.”  We are here to mentor; to help the Afghans make their changes to their healthcare system.  So what happens if they are not interested in changing?  What if their solution is counter to my culture?  If I find a person who is dying and I have the knowledge, supplies, willingness to help, but I walk away because it is not for me to do…. I allowed it.

How do you make a choice between two equally poor outcomes based on my cultural beliefs?  I could do it all, save the life, and in the end the Afghans never learn to do it themselves.  I could let them fail in hopes of creating awareness.  But unless I gain immediate traction in creating a cultural care paradigm shift, I have lost one life of many to lose in this game.  A great cost for a slow and small return on investment.  The idea of a zero failure system is both ignorant and unrealistic.

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.

We are, above all else, here to help the individual in their search for something better.   Something that they are looking for, something that their inner heart desires: freedom and peace.  The problem arises in that they can never achieve those things due to their political, social, religious, and economic systems.

While all seems lost or impossible to manage; a short story about Sandy the Fob-Dog.  Sandy has been with us since she was a puppy here at NMH.  She is very friendly and enjoys spending time with ForcePro and anyone who will feed her.  One day a staff member made a comment about Sandy.  “You Americans are amazing.  You treat even the smallest animals better than we treat each other…”  If that ANA soldier is aware of that, he has begun to change.

Sandy is now considered a nuisance by the ANA and they planned on killing her.  Not the typical veterinarian injection type of death….  But, in typical US and Canadian fashion the team stepped up and paid to have her quarantined and will be sent to the USA!  The team laughs about our upcoming court date to figure out visitation rights.  They say a man can live forty days without food, three days without water, eight minuets without air but, will can never truly live without hope.

So where am I in all of this?  We all wish for a smooth flight and soft landing in life.  Resting into the arms of our family, the quiet of the woods and noise of a snow fall.  Today my focus is on a few more fundamental things, finding inner peace and recovering an identity.

I hurt, physically broken with back and hip and knee pains.  In an effort to starve off the complex emotions of seeing and working ethical dilemmas we place our emotional self into a box for protection and safe keeping.  I forgot where I put the box. Lost me, lost my vision, lost my sense of adventure.  I lost them, but I know that the truth is I walked away from it.

All my life, as the masses ran away, I ran in.  The Fire Department, Ambulance, multi system trauma, War.  I fit in here in Kabul.  Some fear the Taliban, I meet them head on.  I have shaken their hands, cared for them and their children, always aware they want nothing more than to hurt me.  I would cross the oceans, traverse the mountains to find this evil, and work to destroy it.  I am glad it is here and not being fought in Orlando.  Some may fear going into the hospital.  I would rather die protecting my team than live knowing I stayed back to stay safe because I feared. My team is wired as warriors, we are designed to fight.  Fight for us, fight for those we care for, fight for the truth. This team doesn’t fear, they are feared.  So why do we fear returning home?

Truth is a strange devil to dance with and battle.  Some say they want it, but few can handle it.  It polishes and destroys all in the same artistic brush stroke.  Few things can, if any, be said following this mission.  I have heard it all at this point.  I have appreciated unconditional support and people like to say, “it will all be ok.”

Lets not lie to ourselves, these soldiers go to surgery and their fears are the same as yours: pain, anxiety, alone, unknowns.  I reach out to provide comfort, set an example of caring for others to see.  I tell them the same thing: they will survive, it will be ok, we are here for you.  I suppose they hear me but, do they believe me?  In the end some of what I said is true but, is it?

love is born with the pleasure of looking at each other, it is fed with the necessity of seeing each other, and it is concluded with the impossibility of separation.

What I never tell them is that their feet will never appreciate the cushion of freshly cut grass, nor their toes feel the grit of fine beach sand between them.  Things change and people change, never to be the same.  We, US and Afghans, are citizen soldiers.  We chose this path, poorly lit, uneven and to a destination unknown.  We did not pick it for its ease but for what it can stabilize and produce for our countries.


We have seen the worst humanity can offer.  Our spirit is wounded.  Afghan soldiers who are friends die and people suffer.  I see pain all over, broken people walking searching for something that they will never know.  Searching for something they would never find if they lived forever.  I have it, I never worked for it.  They will never know freedom, taste justice, or smell success at what their heart desires.  Yet daily I push forward delivering a product others have ordered for them.  The Afghans seek the well of peace, a fountain of redemption.  I look around and realize what exists is a place of ice and fire.  We live it every day.  The anxiety, stress, fear, pain, is always close by.

The road ahead is yet to be found.  I doubt it will be paved, probably not even cleared.  Where ever I find myself, there I shall strive to exist.  Dealing with the past, fighting for the present, and looking towards the future.  We will own it, wrestle it, and in time we will beat it.  You’re not alone out there friends.  I will run with you, for fun, for strength, and because we are, deep down, warriors.  Head up, shoulders back, meet it head on.

One day I will find my forrest, and I will listen for my snow flakes.  Now is not the time.  Today, I got your back.


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