Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hearts and Minds

By chance happened across this YouTube post called 'Afghan: Other War LAV3Strykers Ruin Effort 1, which is a clip from a PBS special.

The poster obviously has a thing against wheeled fighting vehicles but apart from that what struck me was that the guy in charge of the overall NATO effort in Afghanistan, General David Richards, made no effort to speak the local language during an opening of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).

He's speaking at a crowd of local notables. Some of whom can mutter a bit of English, others might or might not understand it - that's not the point. The point is that the guy in charge is doing a speaking thing, being nuanced and all as if he's talking to the Rotary and is making no effort at all to speak to the locals, and is instead speaking at them.

I have no doubt he had an interpretor. I have no doubt that when the head cheese makes an effort to speak the local language can have a positive, nay, electrifying effect.


I had a very minor and completely non-essential role with JTF Sea Angel. My job was to rush as quickly as possible to the CP from Okinawa and explain to the S1/G1 team how to read the manuals and build a personal database. Once I got THAT out of the way I stood radio watch (as messenger because I wasn't qualified to touch the radio), and fixed a few computer problems. It was like being on vacation except I could not go anywhere, the bugs were huge and plentiful, the food 'meh' and I wasn't on vacation. Oh and the water in the shower would kill you if you ingested any.

At any rate the day before flew home* we were all treated to dinner at the Bangladeshi Army Officer's Club. Speeches were given, by some Bangli flag officers and civilians, in English and Bengali. The American ambassador gave a speech, duly translated into Bengali by a translator. Then LGen Stackpole** stood to give the last speech of the evening.

Now - we liked the guy well enough. He cruised through the CP once a day or so, was the thoughtful boss and not at all a screamer. His Bengali Army MP*** detachment that followed him around seemed impressed by him as well.

Stackpole opened his mouth to speak .. and gave a twenty-minute oration. In Bengali. Which was spoke well enough that the Bengalis gave him a standing ovation at the end. I doubt any of them present have forgotten, I have no doubt if there is any good will generated from JTF Sea Angel it was improved by that single speech.

That is how the head cheese wins hearts and minds in a strange land far from home.

Cross Posted to The Daily Brief.

* The mood the week we were packing up and flying out was summed up nicely by a banner hung in the Operations Office: "We're done, Sir. Can we go home now?"

** Semper Fi!

*** They called themselves MPs but their demeanor reminded me of Colonel Hammer's 'White Mice'. Nice guys for all that - they let us fondle their AK-47s and were openly envious over our foot gear. I paid, out of pocket, more for my jungle boots than they made per month.
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