Courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that something is more important than fear.
The time has finally come. 11 Rubicon’s have been written and you hold the final edition from Afghanistan. Maybe the best of them all; I hope a brilliant number 12. I have covered many topics over these past 11 editions and 14 months. To finish I thought I would share twelve thoughts with you about my experiences over this past year while deployed in Afghanistan (a final and long awaited chapter in this epic tale.) So get a helmet, a candy bar, and make sure you are comfortable. Now lets do this.
1) Soldiers are told when they arrive in country, “Few things are easy in Afghanistan…” So true. The struggles are real and the perception of failing your leadership or the Afghans causes a hurt that runs deep. In the end it is less about the paper failure and more about the inability to meet unrealistic expectations. For us operational sailors there are things that can’t be done easily in Afghanistan. For all the others, it is the difficulty of accepting the truth that you might be dead wrong.
2) Learn to love chicken. I mean really love chicken. You will eat it every meal of every day. AVOID the fish. This repetitive menu is only slightly diminished by eating ice cream. As your personal ice cream mentor I suggest vanilla with peanut butter and chocolate sauce!
3) BAZAAR! This is a short one. If they sold it to you, you paid too much. “Its a great deal for you today, you are like my family, you are like a brother to me.” “Oh I can’t go that cheap, I will be making no money….” HA!
4) If you see a man in a burka, you saw a man in a burka. No one wants to be a big girl in a burka. Also no one wants to be a Colonel no one listens to. Observe where you are, pay attention, and listen to others; they might know something. Finally be careful of the toes you step on today. There is always a chance that they are attached to an ass you will need to kiss tomorrow.
5) Its all about who you know and if you know yourself. No matter where you go, who you meet or what you do, be true to who you are. Love the adventure of the walk not just the destination.The story is what we share but the real story is about the relationships. No one would pay to hear a story about a man who lives alone, has a job, and buys a car. When the protagonist fails in relationships and has the courage to get up, change themselves, and try again, that makes for a great story!
6) It is not about what you do but how you do it. Do not fall prey to a process; don’t settle for being a cog in a wheel. Take some time to appreciate what you do and how it touches someones life. When given the chance to help a traveler in Afghanistan we would always give them a ride. Nothing is easy, remember? So why be part of the problem? Extend a helping hand. If its worth doing, do it well.
Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.
7) The effect you have in Afghanistan may never be seen by you. The story of Siaed and his father is what this deployment is all about. Siaed died but his story lives on in his village. The story of LT Young and his caring will spread. Will hearts and minds be changed? Maybe. What could happen if this story ends up being woven into the fabric of tales? A story of a young man who fought for Afghanistan’s freedom and was cared for by an American who showed them that we were not all bad.
8) Live for the moment because that is where happiness is. You can dwell on the past for what has aggrieved you and miss the beauty of today. If you plan for the future because that is where happiness is, you miss the greatness of today.
Once your future becomes the present you will see that it is not quite how you planned it and happiness is not here either. The last wrinkle here is that if you focus on only the destination you will never be able to remember how you got there. You never appreciated the moment. You become just another person buying a car.
9) Counterinsurgency will, at best, get you a two minute warning. For all the time spent, money allocated, relationships built, we will never be family to them. Blood is thicker than water and nothing is more motivating than the threat to one’s family. Right or wrong is irrelevant when the ends justify the means and your children are on the line.
10) I have appreciated how a place of immense danger and intense stress can change peoples ability to do the right thing. For fear of not being promoted, for fear of being reprimanded, for fear of failure. The fear of your own mortality or the mortality of a team member should motivate above all else. Here the right course embraced by few was ignored by others. In the end, who stands to pay the heaviest cost for their silence? Health, welfare, and safety are, above all else, worth standing up for. Are we not here to protect the safety of the United States?
Tis better to make a mistake with the full force of your being than to avoid mistakes with a trembling spirit. The courage is in the choice about pleasure vs price and then living without concern or regret.
11) The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. What you see is one view point because of where you are looking and because of the glasses you wear to view the world. While you see one thing and focus on that you may miss the amazing people, places, and opportunities to your left and right. Don’t sit by and wait for the miracle to present itself, find the beauty in life’s adventure happening before you every day. So try to change your perspective and grow with conflict; be a peaceful warrior by admitting your failures and growing from them while being gracious in your successes. Some people will tell you it is sad that roses have thorns, but others will smile and appreciate that thorns are blessed with beautiful roses.
12) Fate has a funny way and showing you something and then leveling you with a right hook. Many of us joined the military for a chance to preserve what so many have worked to give us. We are asked to shoulder the burden of horrors and dangers on your behalf, never suspecting that we would come face to face with eternity; not me, not here, not now. The soldiers and sailors who are returning may clearly show that they have paid a price at the hands of a ruthless enemy. They show the physical signs of war, the damaged bodies, the worn and painful joints but others will have unseen scars. We do it willingly, gracefully, and with poise feeling neither guilt or blessed for returning home whole. Some of us will struggle with those unseen scars, the unimaginable and possibly unsurvivable wounds of the heart, while others will quietly slip home and into the masses of our communities never allowing us to see what they have lost to the gears of war.
Twelve thoughts, twelve points of perspectives on what it takes to survive Afghanistan and take the good and the bad in stride. This moment of life’s clarity in my world has lent itself to an eternity of growth and appreciation for where I have come from, where I am and where I might just end up going. I never sought a wellspring of personal growth, I thought I was good enough. I now know that good enough well… isn’t.
I have never spoken much about my team here. Let me share a few perspectives as they all have eagerly awaited the release of every newsletter. Beyond my personal story here, this is witness to their story too.
There are not enough superlatives to describe our team here. Their steadfast cohesiveness has been the backbone to the success, however minor. The amazing ups and painful downs of fighting for what is right for these Afghan soldiers is understood by us all and will never be forgotten by us. Showing quiet courage while feeling the enemy draining what little energy you have left each and every moment of every day. This team has shown incredible poise and tact by facing in a different direction and pointing to a different destination than the masses have wished to run toward.
These past few weeks we have discussed if whether we wished that we had not been deployed to Afghanistan. This was a very real feeling we all shared at some point during our time away from you. Some continue to struggle with this feeling as Father Time winds down our clock. Who really wants to leave their family for 15 months to live a rougher life in a combat zone? Missing out on recitals, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and moments of spontaneity that will never be replayed. How many times will we hear stories about times passed while we were away and never being able to share in that story? For this team we see our story played out as a cool lonely night under a dark sky with one lonely star to guide us forward.
Our first few days weeks and months here were characterized by connecting with strangers and realizing the world is a lot bigger and scarier than we ever imagined. On the eve of our departure we all realize that who we have become are persons of character, of honor, of true courage, passionate individuals with a gentle and unwavering spirit. We appreciate this is not only because of what we did here but what we missed out on at home. Its about the chances we took and the ones we didn’t take. It is about the times we pushed something too far because it was worth it and learning a costly lesson by leaving some of our ass in a chair. It is about the doors we closed to get away from the world and the windows we ended up climbing out of to find success. Its about the things we thought we knew but didn’t really ever know.
Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a Warrior. Though efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.
Will I miss Afghanistan? I will. This seems to surprise so many when I say it. Why would I miss eating chicken every day for every meal (Please AVOID the fish, trust me)? Because for as bad as the food is, the company of these friends family will never be replicated anywhere in the world. As reality sets in that we are leaving, I know I will keep in touch with some, and lose sight of others over the horizon of time. Despite me physically leaving Afghanistan part me me stays. Not the part a self centered person would want seen. There are no medals for what I leave here, there will be no recognition for what was truly done. What really matters is what will remain far after the last water well has been dug or the final Coalition pen runs dry of ink. What remains are the stories that will be told about how we helped redefine an entire country and show the Afghan people that they matter. Someone out there will do something different tomorrow, make a different choice because of what we did here. That will make all the difference. We will board a plane and the part of us that remains will keep a vigil and guide those we touched one story, one memory at a time.
When I return to you there will be stories to tell and adventures to share. Some will make you laugh so hard you might pee; others will leave you in a state of disbelief and tears. Dr. Seuss wrote of some places you might go and, I bet, never considered Afghanistan to be a place of possibility. Mother Theresa never came here, and Saint or not, its her loss. In the end you will never understand what has happened here until you come here. Until you take the pulse of country looking for a chance.
I have faced this place honorably, and taken away some amazing tales. These are tales about a distant land called Afghanistan. A place nestled somewhere between sunrises and sun sets where you find a collection of lost hopes and tears. Where the people seem backwards and when you look closely you find they are not so different. These tales are the scars I willfully took on behalf of my family and country. I came here to keep America safe and found that safety is not in a document but in a cup of tea, a hug, and a simple handshake. My scars are but one man’s tale out of many that our Coalition military members have shouldered for you. Mine will heal in time and soon become a distant memory shadowed by the amazing things I saw and learned here. Moving forward, we soldiers of freedom, will find courage together because of this common unifying experience. A tale about survival over danger and success over conflict from an enemy that lives within. We have found our way and its the only way. It’s the Warriors way.
Jeremy R. Young
Worlds Greatest MET Team
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.