Deployment journal: Winning hearts, minds proves challenging, essential undertaking

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
To me, the Kabul city streets looked the same Nov. 6 as they did during my previous deployment to Afghanistan two years ago.

It was my first full day at work, and the task was to convoy with a team of videographers and photojournalists to an Afghan National Police training area, a short drive from my base.

My job during the convoy was to command the second truck and be the primary, or alpha, gunner. Such duties are not new to me. I quickly geared up and was mentally prepared for the task at hand.

We tactfully moved to the ANP training compound, covered a full morning of training, and returned to our base with little incident. I honestly didn't anticipate anything otherwise and expected a pretty uneventful movement.

However, what I wasn't emotionally prepared for was to, once again, encounter children begging for water, school supplies, candy, money, and pretty much anything they don't currently have.

Much of Kabul's youth live in poverty, which is why it is so necessary to continue development efforts. This is a major focus of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, or IJC, I am assigned to while deployed. We are responsible for command and control of tactical operations across the entire country.

At IJC, we oversee six individual regional commands, more than 350 forward operating bases and four major medical centers in Afghanistan. Though our mission is a vast one, those impoverished children serve as a constant reminder of just how important our mission is.

While bogged down in a traffic queue, our vehicle was literally swarmed with kids. While their need for essentials brought sorrow to my heart, seeing some of the young boys on the roadside playing what appeared to be a game of 'tag' was a small, but relished, bit of cheer to me.

That sentiment of cheer soon faded as we rounded a corner and headed down a much smaller street, and some nearby children pelted our vehicles with rocks.

The realism in the coalition efforts here is that we have those who view the alliance as optimistic and believe we may bring a brighter future to their war-torn country. Meanwhile, others see us as invaders or view our presence as a threat.

How do we win the hearts and minds of our opposition, while continuing to foster positive relationships with those who support us? Furthermore, how do we do this while fighting an insurgency that wages battle from within the crowds of the very people we hope to protect?

These are the challenges we face here every day.

I, for one, am compelled to do my part, no matter how large or small it is. Two years ago, I came to an Afghanistan similar to what I am serving in today. When I leave here next year, and likely return the following year, I hope to see a much-improved way of life in Kabul and the rest of this land.

(Editor's note: Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace is deployed to Afghanistan from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom.)