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The Most Unbelievable Thing I Witnessed in the Military

The enduring impact of Operation Enduring Freedom

By Matt CatesPublished 4 years ago 3 min read
The Most Unbelievable Thing I Witnessed in the Military
Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

Someone on Quora asked this question, so I gave them an honest answer. In 2006, I was an Air Force embedded trainer in Kabul, Afghanistan, and we drove out to see the local military guys using sledgehammers to tear up the exterior of a new facility we'd had built for their army. That was the most unbelievable thing I saw in my 21-year career. But the fact is, all my days over there were just one scene after another that made me wonder what we were trying to accomplish.

I missed the birth of my first kid to go there. Like many military guys, I got married overseas, and my wife was still learning English. She was 8 months pregnant when I got notice I'd be deploying in 2 weeks. They refused to give me a delay to stay and help her through the delivery.

I got to Afghanistan and was put in charge of passing out phone cards.

My first month, I worked maybe 5 hours, not counting riding shotgun for little excursions. Waste of time. I talked to my wife's nurse on the phone as she went into labor. She was having a very hard time. They ended up over-medicating her as the baby was coming out. She passed out and they did an emergency C-section at an Army hospital. The doctor wasn't experienced.

My boss asked to give some computer security training to local military guys. I'm not an IT guy, but was told to figure out a curriculum and teach it because I had to “know more than they did.”

So I worked on it, had it approved, and was shown an empty classroom with boxes of computer equipment. Nothing set up. So I set everything up and they brought in a translator and then I was told to "never mind." Waste of time.

Then they said okay, you will teach a different group about basic computer setup, so I got to the “class” and no one was there. They went and grabbed 3 guys to sit in my class, and a translator explained okay, so this is a computer, this is a monitor, this is a keyboard. Waste of time.

Then they said okay help test AK-47s with these guys. I don't know jack shit about those weapons, I was an AF admin. They said look, it's like your M-16 except for this and that.

Here're some crates of AK-47s. If they fire, put them in this pile. If they explode, make a new pile.

That entire deployment experience just felt like a waste. I wanted to help make a difference for the people who had lived under the oppression of the Taliban. But people I spoke with thought things were worse because of the corruption under the new regime. It was a no-win situation.

The poverty we saw was heartbreaking, and watching the kids made me very depressed. Much of the countryside was just a total wasteland.

It's like there was nothing physical or tangible to even be fighting over.

The Taliban wanted to control people's “beliefs,” not let women get an education or even walk around without being 100% covered (even the eye slits have a mesh over them).

So how can you fight a belief system like that?

I was making small talk with our translator team once. They told me that the penalty there for a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man was hanging. And these were the people we were working WITH. That was the culture, the mindset there at that time and place.

When the US leaves, it'll go back the way it was. The people have no resources to fight with, there's not even fresh water in many places. So it was unbelievable that we were there. That was back in 2006. And we still have troops dying there.

PS. I got home and met my daughter, and saw that my wife's operation had left her with permanent internal injury. She was never the same after that. She said she didn't think I was the same. We ended up getting divorced years later.

I always felt that deployment was a big reason for the divorce.

But I got to pass out phone cards, play a lot of pool, watch a lot of bootleg DVDs, and teach 3 guys what a computer looks like. I also got to see what they used the computers for later. Surfing porn.


About the Creator

Matt Cates

Freelance writer and owner of Cates Content and Copywriting; retired Air Force Veteran; former administrative assistant at Oregon State University; author of Haveck: The First Transhuman, the greatest sci-fi novel in the multiverse.

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    Matt CatesWritten by Matt Cates

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