A Special Privilege
There are many things that I could share about my time in Afghanistan, serving the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A), but none more important than the privilege to stand beside the men and women who serve our nation on the forward edge of the front line. They sacrifice tirelessly, often thanklessly, sometimes in the worst of conditions, taking bullets and bombs in stride as part of the job. Having the rare opportunity to work alongside both US and Canadian Special Forces from one end of Afghanistan to another, I can tell you I found them to be patriots and gentlemen.
My small contribution to this effort came in the form of an emerging trend called Narrative Network operations. The basic idea was the core of the movie Inception: to plant an idea is somebody's mind and make them believe it was their own idea. Done right, ideas can take hold and exert scenario-changing power. That is the basis for this kind of warfare, but it is a game played at a widespread level. An amalgam of psychology, anthropology, marketing, communication and theater, it is a dark art into which DARPA is throwing tens of millions of dollars and, if our success in theater is any measure, stands to be a significant part of our asymmetric warfare strategy in the years to come.
Home in Afghanistan was a place called Camp Morehead, nestled between two 7,000 foot mountains. It was a rugged place that has been at the center of warfare for decades. Literally tons of unexploded ordinance, much of it left by the Soviets during their stay, lies everywhere in the ground waiting for the next good rain to uncover a new array of nasty surprises. Being me, I wrangled my way into the wings of the UXO team and helped reduce some land mines with the help of a bomb robot.
Camp Morehead is widely known among the Special Operations community as the home of ANASOAG, the Afghan National Army Special Operations Advisory Group. It was run by SF Col. Billy Shaw, an amazing warrior, leader and master of Jedi Mindgames. He was concurrently running the garrison and academy that trains the Afghan Special Forces and I had the great fortune to work with him in support of that initiative. Billy and I led an effort that re-defined how Special Ops used and delivered transmedia content in the furtherance of narrative operations and created a Values-based IO campaign that was so effective that adoptions spanned as far as the American Red Cross. Along the way we created a hit Afghan TV show called The Defenders; that one is a long story. Altogether it was an incredible chance to work with gifted, dedicated people and come home with not only a friend, but a brother.
The trip was not without its tragedies, you cannot be in a country torn apart by war without seeing its effects. Events like the shoot-down of the Navy SEALs helicopter, the bombing of the Rhino in front of the royal palace ruins, or the loss of a wonderful CST and two Rangers; all reminders of how fast things can go bad. On the morning our convoy left Ezabad, a huge IED on our roadway was triggered by an Afghan driving an 18-wheeler traveling of us. Sometimes your good luck is another guy's misfortune.
But for all the bad there are moments that just felt right, like the day we saved a dog. That may sound insignificant on the scale of things in a war zone, but the chance to rescue a beautiful Malinois Shepherd from a truly miserable fate presented itself and we took it. When your plan to rescue a dog involves M4s, bolt-cutters and an all-terrain vehicle, you know you are in a group of serious animal lovers.
We named him Ronin, a samurai without a master. His expression after the rescue and a good bath says it all.
But ultimately the most meaningful moments of my deployment came on September 11, 2011, ten years to the day after the tragedy that changed so many of our lives. It was a humbling moment to stand among SpecOps teams from the USA, Canada, Great Britain and other nations to watch our flag rise into a vivid blue Afghan sky, flown in the face of our enemies. It was a moment I will treasure for the rest of my life, with brothers and sisters I will hold dear forever.