The sounds, smells, and images of Afghanistan will forever be ingrained in my memory. A piece of me will surely stay here following my departure from these soils. Never will I forget all that has happened here over the course of the past year.
The stories I have written over the past year have come from merely one perspective -- my own. While I have tried to keep an optimistic outlook on the rather stagnant situation here, I know that some of my bitterness and cynicism have probably shown through my words.
My perspective has been fairly limited and my stories have revolved around the Afghan National Army more so than anything else.
The stories from a soldier who spent the past year at a remote outpost in Konar Province would be drastically different than mine. Similarly, a soldier who spent the year down in Kandahar or Helmand Province probably has a very different outlook on the overall situation of Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, I hope that by my weekly writings, I have offered a very different story than that of the mainstream media and I hope that through my writings, people have a little better understanding of this country, its people, and the harsh realities of war, corruption, illiteracy, and poverty.
Jalalabad and all of the Afghans I have worked with here on the Afghan Army's Jalalabad Garrison will never stray far from my thoughts after I leave.
I think that most of these people want the better life that is guaranteed by security and a stable government. The Afghan forces are on the verge of providing the security that is necessary for this country's survival; corrupt leaders, however, stand in the way of progress and operational success.
Just this past week, another poppy eradication took place here in Nangarhar Province. The mission failed miserably and resulted in the Afghan National Security Forces withdrawing from the area. The details of the event painted a grim picture of some of the complicated issues facing the security forces here. I truly believe that they can and will surpass the obstacles that lay in their path to success, but it will take time.
The time it will take for the Afghan forces to be completely independent and to maintain their own security is unclear. I see glimpses that it could be as early as tomorrow, but those glimpses are quickly covered by the tarnish that goes along with a young, growing centralized government.
The truth is, once people have faith in their government and the security it provides, they will not be as uncertain of the destiny of their country. The old adage of "get while the getting is good" rings true here during these times of instability.
With the Taliban threat still present, it comes as no surprise to me that some leaders and businessmen take what they can get from the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in order to ensure their own personal security. However wrong it may be to siphon funds intended for economic and military growth, to some of them it is a way of taking care of their families and loved ones while the resources are here and available.
I think that the corruption that currently tarnishes the government will dissipate as the government itself becomes a stronger, more independent organization.
The commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the 201st Corps ANA was promoted to the rank of general this week. We celebrated Gen. Afzal's promotion with a large lunch at the ANA mess hall.
I sat with Maj. Rahmdil, Afzal's S2, and I realized how quickly the time here has gone. We ate the typical naan, rice, and oily cooked lamb and beef.
We were the last ones to leave the mess hall after everybody else had filed out. I do not know if I was waiting for him to finish or he was waiting for me; but, I recognized the fact that a true friendship has been formed between the two of us.
I truly admire Rahmdil for his courage and his willingness to sacrifice for his country and what he believes is right. If there were more officers like him in the ANA, I am convinced this war would be over much sooner than it otherwise will be.
A typical conversation I have with an Afghan usually includes the question of whether I am married. I always laugh and say, "No." Then I get the follow-on question of "Why not?" I don't ever really get annoyed with these questions; rather, I find them humorous.
Rahmdil, already knowing my responses to the typical marital questions, always asks the question of "When?" After repeatedly telling him that it may be a while, I still receive the question as if he wants me to expedite the process.
As I was leaving his office the other day, he once again brought up the topic and I gave the same response I always give. This time, however, he told me that he better get a wedding invitation when I get back to the states. We both laughed: me, at the thought of getting married; he, at the thought of going to the U.S. With the complexity of the problems surrounding this region, there is still time to find humor in each other's culture and way of life.
When I leave Afghanistan in a few short weeks, everything here will become history for me.
The soldiers of the Afghan National Army, however, will continue to march into the uncertain future of their country. They are the continuity of this land and they will ultimately decide the fate of the Taliban and the other insurgent groups that plague the area with violence.
As I prepare to leave Afghanistan this month, I want to take the time to express my gratitude for all of the prayers and support I have been given from everybody back home.
I am certain that the strength I have needed to get through this deployment has come through all of those prayers. I am certainly ready to leave, but I know that part of me will always be here. This war torn area and the people who live here have impacted me in tremendous ways.
The people who fight for this country and the people who live in these harsh conditions will always be in my prayers, and I pray they will always be in yours.
First Lt. Andrew Plucker is deployed to Afghanistan. He is not an Army spokesman, and his updates from the field are written from his personal perspective as a soldier.