Afghanistan in limbo

Max Lujan 1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army
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My company, Delta of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas deployed to Afghanistan as a part of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command ready force. To put it more simply: we are the fire extinguisher for all of Afghanistan.

We spent the majority of our Independence Day, the day we were deployed, aboard a plane headed to Afghanistan thinking that if we were to engage the enemy we would come in weapon’s blazing similar to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

It was an exciting mission set for us out of the gate; our soldiers had received the finest military training the United States Army had to offer and we knew that wherever we would be going, we would be coming as an ‘expletive’ hammer (as it was put to me by someone of much higher rank) to neutralize any enemy threat.

Instead, my company was activated to go and secure the United States Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan following a terrorist attack that left four dead and numerous others wounded. Rather than working with the United States Army for the majority of the time out here in Regional Command West, we hung our rifles next to the olive branches of the State Department.

This mission, which had sounded sexy from the outset, was soon turning into, as most of our other brothers in arms were also finding out, a socio-political one that none of us were really expecting.

From the second we stepped off the helicopter into a compound that was literally designed to be a diplomatic city on a hill, we were greeted by a plethora of agencies from inside and outside the U.S. government.

One thing unique about all of these agencies is how well they have managed to work together in greater partnership with one driving goal: the safety and security of the Americans remaining on the ground at the U.S. Consulate. It also doesn’t hurt that the Department of State and Department of Defense are enjoying the best working relationship the two have had together in some fifty years.

Throughout our time here we have worked with agencies of both departments and many more; we have conducted operations with the Marines, Navy SEALs, the Spanish and Italian armies and the FBI.

The moment we got off the C-130 aircraft at a nearby airbase, we boarded Spanish Helicopters that dropped us off literally in the U.S. Consulate’s front yard. Our soldiers have shared outposts with Navy SEAL snipers and with Salvadoran contractors. We have partnered with the Afghan National Army’s engineers and infantry as well as the Afghan National Police’s finest in order to strengthen their fighting positions, and, in turn, strengthen the security of the Americans on the ground here.

There has been a rash of ‘green-on-blue’ or ‘insider-attacks,’ but to focus entirely on them would downplay the mostly positive relationship we have had with the ANA. This has been an international operation from the second the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device went off at the front gate of the building I currently call home. Within minutes of the blast, the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army arrived on scene and eliminated the remaining terrorists with the help of the security forces organic to the Consulate. The fact that the Afghan National Police were able to respond so quickly proved instrumental in the relatively low number of lives lost (and no American ones).

While the building took more damage from the blast than the Benghazi attack, it is surprisingly livable. Myself and my non-commissioned officer, who was raised a street away from me, currently share what we have come to call our “flat.” While the name was inspired, somewhat sarcastically, by the bachelor pads that blanket Manhattan, we are actually just a couple of guys from Round Rock, Texas, now living in what was once a waiting room for the service elevator.

While the accommodations at the Consulate haven’t been bad, they haven’t exactly been the same they were some ten years ago when it was once a “5-star hotel.”

Our first few nights we had soldiers showering with hand-soap and washing their hair with an Afghan version of Dawn. One of the biggest sources of bragging rights early-on was whether or not the room you and other soldiers were sharing had a working shower and toilet.

While this lifestyle is foreign and less than ideal for most living in The Real World, it’s what American soldiers are called upon and love to do.

That is what the American public expects its finest sons and daughters to do without complaint; soldier on. Each soldier (and linguist) in our company here is working an 18-hour day with the remaining six hours devoted towards hygiene, maybe a quick email home on the two available computers for the countless soldiers here to share, or sleeping. Not once have they complained about the living conditions or sharing a small room with four other soldiers. Honestly, our guys aren’t even in their rooms long enough to notice where they put their head down for perhaps four hours a day.

With our time here at the Consulate winding down, and with visits from two ambassadors and generals whose cumulative stars would require two hands to count, we’ve managed to catch our breath somewhat as we have handed over the majority of our operations to the State Department and Afghan National Security Forces.

In what has been an inspirational and textbook example of multi-national, multi-service, and multi-agency missions, each person involved with these operations has walked away more knowledgeable and aware of the partnerships paving the way for the end of the United States’ operations in Afghanistan.

Max Lujan is from Round Rock, Texas and a First Lieutenant in the United States Army. He is currently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.