Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Route to Democracy

Two Ft. Lewis soldiers were killed August 18th in Afghanistan. That other war front that is sometimes neglected in all of the news coverage, what with Cindy Sheehan and others taking up front-row-center.

According to the DoD release, the soldiers were killed when an IED detonated under the HMMWV. They were both assigned to the Army's 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Provisional), Fort Lewis, Washington :

  • 1st Lt. Laura M. Walker, 24, of Texas.
  • Sgt. Robert G. Davis, 23, of Jackson, Mo.

I was pleased to find that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried a good story on them, especially regarding 1LT Walker.

Walker, recently named the public affairs officer for the Fort Lewis-based 864th Combat Engineer Battalion, 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, nicknamed the "Triple Nickel," and Davis, from the same unit, were riding in a convoy during an assault when the explosion occurred, the Pentagon said.

Walker, who graduated with a degree in political science from West Point, had served in Iraq in 2004 with the Triple Nickel. She went to Afghanistan with the unit's Company B, completing her 15 months as platoon leader before taking over as public affairs officer for Task Force Pacemaker, the Army construction unit in Kandahar.

In that capacity she was chronicling what it takes to build a road that will help people cut 15 hours of travel to three hours, a road built through mountainous terrain where the Taliban still operates.

You can read the complete P-I story here. On the face of it, there is balance between the loss of the soldiers, and the positive mention of the good work of the Triple Nickel.

I can't help wondering, though ... Why couldn't the story about the building of this amazing road have been reported before the loss of these two soldiers??

This is just one tiny example of the good work our military is doing, either directly - in the building of roads and other infrastructure, or indirectly - by providing training and security. But we only get to hear this as a counter to the bad news.

Why didn't we hear before about the piece that Lt. Walker wrote about the Route to Democracy before she was killed? It's a good article, explaining the problems faced in the planning and building of this 117 km long road :

Fifteen hours is a tremendous barrier. It is the obstacle preventing one village from attaining the assistance of another and surviving a drought. It is the reason a trip to the hospital, or receiving an education, aren’t realistic options. Fifteen hours is what stands in the way of commerce between two provinces. It prevents communication between neighbors only 80 kilometers apart. Fifteen hours is the reason for isolation. Before Task Force Pacemaker began work, the drive between Kandahar and Tarin-Kowt took fifteen hours. Upon completion of the road it will take only three. The end of geographical isolation will be a new beginning for hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan.

I especially liked her description of the care needed to deal with the local residents along the path of the road :

...It is critical to establish the projected route prior to entering any towns. Soldiers must be able to articulate their intentions to the surrounding locals, in particular the village elder, before barging through. There are often different factions within a town and the path of the road has been adjusted by mere feet to accommodate the wishes of local farmers. 1LT Brian Meister, the earth moving platoon leader of C/864th lists civilians on the jobsite as the single biggest security challenge in the south. “They are everywhere and impossible to keep entirely off. The enemy is not easily identified, so anyone driving a pickup through the jobsite could pose a potential risk.” 1LT Patrick Sullivan, the earth moving platoon leader in A/864th has experienced the same type of concerns on the northern effort.

While we were standing on the hill, looking down at the proposed route, an audience began to form. The children came out first, and then the men of the village... as the crowd grew larger. I began to get just a little nervous. I told the captain who has been in the country for about a year; he quickly turned around and began shaking hands with the crowd, so I followed… It was an event that I will never forget. There are some bad people in the area, but for the most part, the population is tired of the last twenty years of war and corruption. They were just happy to see the guys who were building them a road.

Please read the complete article, it's worth the time.

Farewell, Lt. Laura Walker ... I'm sorry that I'll never get to meet you. But I'm mighty glad you chose to serve.

Linked from the Mudville Gazette Dawn Patrol