Top NCO in Afghanistan Says U.S. Morale High
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jul. 28, 2006
Almost five years into the mission, American troops are still highly motivated about their duty in Afghanistan, the top enlisted man for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Wood travels the country with the commander, Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, and on his own. He is in a unique position to see what the joint force assigned here thinks.
“The morale is great because it doesn’t take long after servicemembers get here to understand what the focus is,” Wood said during an interview. “The baseline for this theater is the people of Afghanistan.”
American servicemembers see changes they are enabling. Afghanistan has an annual per capita income of about $800. This is up from around $300 in 2001. “Once (American servicemembers) drive through a town -- and most of the (forward operating bases) are right next to or in a town -- and they go out on patrol they get to meet the people -- the kids, the elders,” Wood said. “They see what they mean to this place.”
At heart, he said, Afghans want the same things Americans take for granted in America. “They just want to be able to be safe and go to work and allow their kids to go to school. And Americans based here know they have a part in that mission,” Wood said. “They are setting up that wall of security around those towns and villages so the Afghans can get on with their lives.”
Troops also tell the sergeant major they understand they are in this country to prevent terrorists from taking it over again. Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a training base. “They planned the Sept. 11 (2001) attacks here,” Wood said. “They want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Servicemembers assigned here have several missions. First and foremost, they go after terrorists and Taliban fighters who want to make Afghanistan a terrorist haven again. Second, Woof explained, they are working reconstruction issues so the people here have an alternative to cooperating with terror groups. Third, they are working to train Afghan security forces.
“They know they have a purpose being over here, and they can see things happening -- whether its building a road or bridges or schools,” Wood said. “They can drive down the road and see people walking down the streets and kids out playing soccer and volleyball. They can see kids going to schools -- including girls -- something the Taliban forbade.”
Wood said that fighting goes on in about 15 percent of the country. “In those few provinces, the Taliban, al Qaeda or other groups come in and put so much fear into the people so they are afraid to line up with the government,” he said. “But overall, they are very few.”
Narcotics production remains a problem. Officials are working to give Afghan farmers an alternative to growing opium poppies by helping with irrigation systems and road building. “May be only 8 to 10 percent of farmers actually grow poppies,” Wood said, “but it accounts for almost a third of the gross domestic product.”
The Taliban has launched more attacks this year than last. They have used safe areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan to reconstitute some capability. American, coalition, NATO International Security Assistance Force and Afghan forces defeat them every time they try direct action, Wood said.
“So the big bad things that make the news (back in the United States) are actually pretty small in comparison to what’s going on across the country,” the sergeant major said.
Servicemembers take their free time to help in orphanages and at schools. They work long hours to ensure security and have the right materials on hand for construction projects. And they work shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan security forces to train them and mentor them to take over the mission.
“They see the changes, and they are pleased to be a part of the effort,” Wood said. “There is no problem with morale in this theater.”