Back From Afghanistan, and From my Last Rodeo
by GREGORY D. LEE
November 5, 2011
Bagram Air Base.
After forgoing my weekly columns for a year while on active duty as an Army reserve officer, I’m back. I retired on Tuesday after 39 years, four months and three days of active and reserve service. But who’s counting?
The last year has been a whirlwind of experiences. I reported to the Special Operations Command Europe in Stuttgart, Germany as a special law enforcement advisor for the Commanding General (CG) and Director of Joint Intelligence. By February, I was in Kabul, Afghanistan researching the “Rule of Law” counter-insurgency strategy and the Afghan legal system. I also worked on developing a template for special operation forces in conducting what is called “Evidence Based Operations.”
The essence of the strategy is to show the populace that the Afghan central government is strong, relevant and capable of enforcing its laws and bringing criminals to justice. The strategy changes the rules of engagement for special operations forces from killing or capturing the enemy to assisting Afghan police forces in arresting insurgents in most, but not all cases.
U.S., NATO and other coalition Special Forces operators are highly skilled soldiers, but they’re not policemen. My job was to train them on how to develop probable cause to convince Afghan officials to grant permission to search a particular premise to find and seize items of contraband.
This strategy faces many challenges, but these fine men learned to adapt and make the best of an ever-changing situation.
While outside the terminal at Bagram Air Field awaiting a C-17 flight back to Germany, I heard what sounded like a small jet airplane in the sky heading in my direction. The sergeant with whom I was conversing, who had been there for several months, said an enemy rocket was coming our way. Within a few seconds, it landed with a loud explosion about 100 yards away. It struck a metal container and caused damage to an armored vehicle, but fortunately no one was hurt.
The helplessness and frustration I felt was overwhelming. According to the sergeant, insurgents launch them with timers, so there isn’t anyone around when Army helicopters come looking for them. From the many soldiers and airmen with whom I talked since then, they said it is routine for rockets to land into Bagram, and when fired at night most immediately go back to sleep after the noise of the explosions fade away. Talk about a rude awakening!
Seeing Afghanistan firsthand, and completing a short combat tour of duty, was rewarding and very educational. It put everything into focus. Unfortunately, during my 36-day deployment, 43 U.S. military members were killed as well as about a dozen NATO soldiers.
Upon returning to Germany, I developed training material for coalition Special Operations personnel and gave numerous briefings there, at NATO headquarters in Belgium and at U.S. Air Force Special Operations in England. I also wrote scenarios for Evidence Based Operations that were incorporated into an annual three-week NATO Special Operations Forces field exercise held in Romania last September.
The training I gave for the exercise was held in Romania and Bulgaria. Getting there was by military C-130 cargo planes and Chinook helicopters that practiced “evasive maneuvers,” which is an experience in itself. I told CG Michael Repass that participating in this training exercise was so far removed from my normal job as an Army criminal investigator, I felt like a stock broker from New York vacationing at a Wyoming dude ranch to experience roping a steer. At 58 years old, this was my last rodeo.
With my retirement on November 1st, I can go back to writing my columns and expressing my informed opinions without any Department of Defense restrictions.
I look forward to hearing your comments.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gregory D. Lee is a retired Supervisory Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the author of three criminal justice textbooks. While on DEA diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, he was involved in the investigation of several notable terrorism events and arrests. He recently retired after more than 39 years of active and reserve service from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Chief Warrant Officer Five Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division Command, better known as CID. In 2011 he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan while on special assignment to the Special Operations Command Europe. Contact him at email@example.com.