Thursday, October 9, 2008

A drop in a bucket

Earlier today I was writing to a friend of mine, actually he’s a retired senior chief, about life here. He had asked me how life was in Afghanistan. Most days that's an easy question for me, but for those who live here it is so not easy.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about our team’s mission of helping the Afghans achieve self governance. It seems like a losing battle at times, but we are very blessed right now with what seems to be a good city mayor, as well as a very bright and good governor. At least they seem to be less corrupt than the previous ones. Nevertheless, it is difficult to identify substantial changes and quantify them as we look forward to the end of our deployment. We hope we made the right decisions and took the right steps in implementing programs which encourage not only self governance but self sufficiency as well.

In our leadership training at Ft Bragg, NC one of the take-away points was more or less this: “We are not here for touchdowns, but first downs. Teams that come behind us may score the first touchdown and we should not expect to leave a huge scorecard behind.” This is true because every move we make doesn’t reveal the results right away, and all we can do is hope it works right and move our objectives closer to the end zone. (I’m not a fan of sports analogies, but they do work.) I think we are achieving success, but only time will tell.

While this is not the place to go into details about some of our successes I can relate this story. I listened to a post-mission brief this afternoon. One of our teams had gone out to do a quality assurance check on a project funded by us, but carried out by local Afghans in a remote village. One soldier related his conversation with one of the village elders. The elder told the soldier that he really liked it when we came to his village, because for several days afterwards his people are in a good mood. He also said that he likes us to come because we treat his people with respect and we genuinely help them.

This is good for us to hear. It means we are getting part of the job right and our soldiers are doing their jobs right. It also means that at least in this village these people are open to their own government and are probably more willing to work the provincial government now. This is good news for us, but it’s only one village. It’s a drop in the bucket.

In the email to my senior chief friend I used this analogy to describe measuring our success. It's like having a 5 gallon bucket that you need to fill with water and the only water source is a drip from a faucet outside in the middle of a desert. So, you put the bucket underneath the drip and hope that it fills up. Granted it's going to take a while, but eventually it will fill up. It's overwhelming to see the need in our province and know that we are only looking at a drop in the bucket and that maybe our effort is only a drop in the bucket to them.

It's a difficult thing to set out to win a war by conquering the hearts and minds of a people. No one is sure that it can be done, because quite frankly where has it been done before? We can't leave now that we are here. If we do, then Afghanistan becomes a safe haven again, where Al Qaeda can regroup, train and prepare attacks. Granted we have that now in Pakistan, but they are focusing on getting us out of Afghanistan and hopefully don't have the resources to do much more.

I think we are making good things happen here. There are good people everywhere who make the right choices and living according to the light and truth they have in their lives. There are good parents everywhere too, who are trying so hard to get the best opportunities for their children, the best education and the best jobs. So many have limited choices and all they know is the fight to put food on the table, let alone clothes on their children's backs, but they still try. We can't give up on them. We have to keep putting drops in the bucket because eventually and with enough drops of water the bucket will start to fill and we will see more positive changes and so will they.