Hello all,

Our time progresses here in Afghanistan, but to what end I might not fully know until I someday have the advantage of hindsight.

On the strategic level, I feel like we finally might be starting to win this war after almost a decade. Some days I’ll look at a place or read news reports and see small victories we are making or targeted individuals who have been eliminated and feel grateful for the fact that things are happening way over my head to disrupt the insurgents’ game and enable me and my ANA to do our jobs better. It amazes me that some places we’ve been, we are the first coalition forces the residents there have seen since the start of the war. I often wonder what we’ve been doing for the last almost-decade. A quote attributed to retired Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann goes something like “we were not in Vietnam for ten years, but for one year ten times.” That can certainly be said about many parts of Afghanistan where we haven’t pushed into; or places where we have pushed into, since receded, and did not provide continuity for the next guys or simply abandoned. An ever-increasing high-water mark, first with coalition and Afghan forces, and later with only competent Afghan forces is the only way to flush out and eliminate insurgents or get them to reconsider their allegiances and reintegrate to a law-abiding life. Anything else is a game of Central Asian Whack-A-Mole. I know brighter and more eloquent minds than I push this platform for a living, but I’m throwing my weight behind it, for what it’s worth.

Then, sometimes I look at the lumbering garrison-minded bureaucracies of many of the larger Regular Army formations that surround us and wonder what purpose they serve and what they really think they’re here for. Sometimes we as an army make the right moves – when we send out a civil affairs guy with access to tens of thousands of dollars to put in wells and dole out generators and build relationships with key leaders and set conditions for the security elements to operate freely. But then there are large, conventional units in the area that have had absolutely no or minimal counterinsurgency (COIN) training and just don’t get how to interact with the populace and with their Afghan security counterparts. Additionally, the command climate – the tone set by leaders in the unit – is such that it makes their soldiers miserable with nitpicky attitudes and overweight and unhappy NCOs screaming left and right, treating their soldiers like lowlifes and just demonstrating small-unit leadership that’s not exemplary. It’s amazing that in the kind of fight we’re in, we still have soldiers whose sole concern for the day is catching another soldier carrying their laundry bag over their shoulder instead of down at their side (forbidden!) or wearing a red-white-and-blue velcro flag patch instead of a green one (also forbidden!). I understand that inane rules like these are the same kinds of rules that (ostensibly) get soldiers to wear seatbelts in combat vehicles so they’re not killed when the vehicle gets flipped by a roadside bomb. Our philosophy on this team is way out of line with the philosophies of the units around us in that if one treats one’s soldiers like men, they will act like men; if one treats one’s soldiers like children, they will act like children. Believe it or not, it has worked. People shun our team for it and our style is probably seen as cancerous to what the Big Army considers to be good order and discipline. It’s amazing, but we can tell our soldiers “wear your harness so you don’t get thrown from the vehicle like studies have shown” and they do. Other units scream at and berate their soldiers into doing the exact same things. It’s a wild dichotomy. My goal isn’t to foist my nature-versus-nurture opinions into the forum, but just speak about my mouth-agape amazement at how an active-duty military unit that is well-paid, well-trained and supposedly well-disciplined, can – across the board – rely on such a beat-your-head-into-the-wall style of leadership. My opinion won’t affect much and these guys will be suffering their own existence here for a year or so, but it’s appalling to see an NCO screw something up/fail/or fail to support their own soldiers and then tear that soldier down for their own failure. In addition, it sure confuses the soldier who may have done nothing wrong but is now rolling around in 100-degree dirt doing flutter kicks and pushups in full combat gear. Such is the environment that drove TE Lawrence apart from his military, fails to promote our brightest and most COIN-savvy mid-grade officers, and fails to imbue a COIN mindset for missions like these into the lowest echelons.

A von Steuben quote I love goes something like, “you say to an English or French or Prussian soldier, ‘Do this’ and he does it. But I am obliged to say to the American, ‘This is why you ought to do this’ and then he does it.” For a nation which prides itself on centralized planning and decentralized execution and takes initiative for granted, I look at some of the units around here and wonder if they’re an aberration or if this is the new direction a war-weary army is taking. Speaking with my replacement today, I commented on our NCOs contrasted against all the other countries’ NCOs I’ve been able to work with. Our most junior E-5 Sergeants can do amazing things – control aircraft, provide accurate indirect fire with automatic grenade launchers (meaning they can’t see where they’re hitting and somebody on the radio is telling them where they’re hitting and how to adjust), employ sniper weapons, prepare and maneuver vehicles to better firing positions without a senior sergeant or officer present, or mentor and advise the ANA on the ground with or without interpreters. These 25 year-old guys who are electricians and college students back home are amazing, versatile young men over here and I sometimes don’t see it in adjacent units or other nations’ sergeants. It makes me proud to be in our army, and in the National Guard (I’ve since taken to referring to us as the “organized militia”) on top of that, but makes me wonder why some units in the Big Army have ‘it’ and some units don’t.

I know that in my last few updates, I haven’t commented much on our partnership with the Hungarian soldiers. Despite the great things I’ve said about the opportunity to partner with our allies the way we’ve been able to, the fact that I publish email updates which comment on our working together has drawn unexpected criticism from several directions. You’d think I was a spy or something. It’s lamentable to think that would happen when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is so connected as to have Facebook and Twitter pages to speak through what he refers to as his great microphone to the public. I guess it’s his prerogative as The Chairman. I’m not quite there yet. I publish my thoughts because I feel, just like when I was in Iraq, that I’ve built a tool capable of garnering homefront support for and understanding of our mission and that it would reflect well upon the partnership between our two nations. My very narrow perspective here is not representative of all of the U.S. Army, Hungary or its army, only the almost year our teams of soldiers have worked together. I cannot be anything other than honest, but would never want to jeopardize or lessen a partnership that I still see as worthy of our best efforts. This is a largely personal forum and any criticisms I have of our team and our experiences in Afghanistan would be better presented in an academic one. I hope to do so someday. Our work as a combined Operational Mentor and Liaison Team serving as combat advisors with the Afghan National Army is so complex and novel that it deserves to be studied. I hope someday soon I might have a hand in improving the process and save a lot of countries a lot of pain and effort as we conduct counterinsurgency by coalition.

As the day nears when we’ll finish our time here and leave Afghanistan, I am a little anxious to get the tour over with, but also a little sad to have seen this time go by so quickly. For guys who came to this mission and these countries steeped in the works of Lawrence, Galula, Nagl, Gant, Kilcullen and others, we are all asking ourselves what more we could have done for the Afghans. I spoke time and again of expectations management with regard to the ANA – that they may not be doing complex combined-arms operations and that carrying radios and canteens might be enough of a victory for the day – but I think our objectivity has at times been clouded with the inspiration from our training and the cerebral, academic discussions we’d have regarding COIN. It’s easy to believe the opportunity exists for every advisor to become a Lawrence, but this is damn near the toughest job in Afghanistan and a large gamble in terms of security and operational payoff. As a team, we have done a good job and worked hard at building good rapport with our counterparts and training and advising them amid a real, hot war that we’re fighting. We’ve produced very real, very tangible results in what our units can do, where they can go, and how they fight. Compared to what we wanted to inherit, improve, and pass off, it’s only a mere incremental change, but such is the result of six months of our best efforts. Many more soldiers and civilians are going to have to work much harder for much longer to see this capacity-building through and leave the lasting effects we desire on the security situation in Afghanistan. I hope that we’ve collected and pass off to our replacements the proper tools and mindsets so they can further our efforts and our coalition does not give up on the work we’ve done here before our investment in the security of Afghanistan has matured.

I hope to update once or twice more before I’m firmly on the ground in Kansas or Ohio. Please no longer send mail, but my sincere thanks to all those who have. We’ve received enough humanitarian assistance items to fill a fifty-foot container, which will ensure our soldiers can build rapport no matter what village they go to. We have an idea of when we’ll leave here, and when we’ll arrive in America, and we hope the gap between the two will be as short as possible and no Icelandic volcanoes disturb our travels. Mary and I are looking at making our rounds and visiting family and friends and vacationing, and I’m still in limbo, waiting to see if I’ll be attending graduate school in September or making other plans. I’ll be interested to see what the future has in store for us, and if my next endeavor will be anywhere near as engaging or consuming as this one has been. If not, I guess I can always pick up a hobby or two.

As always, my most sincere thanks for everybody’s support and interest in what we’re doing.

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Pro patria!

RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

http://www.russellgaleti.wordpress.com

Greetings all,

Where do I begin? This has been an extremely difficult few weeks for all of us. Spring is now upon us and I fully anticipate temperatures and tensions to escalate higher and higher for a seamless and masterful transition into a hellish summer. The most important news – what I should probably address first – is our most recent Troops-In-Contact event. Obviously, I cannot address much more beyond the fact that Master Sergeant Doug Reed, a great soldier, husband and father of seven was wounded in action last week. Troops talking about casualties to back home is always a delicate situation, so suffice it to say we were on an operation, we were engaged with the enemy, and he was wounded. Much more detailed information is available from the internet, but for the sake of our operations, his family, their right to privacy, and the discipline in our unit, I won’t be more detailed. He has since been transported to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and awarded the Purple Heart Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge. Doug is one of our best Soldiers and an integral part of our family here. He will be missed greatly, but we know well that if any one of us had been wounded, he would pick us up, encourage us to continue on and so would want us to do just that without him. Doug is the quintessential volunteer. He volunteered to join the Army, further volunteered to be infantry, a parachutist, and in the true fashion of a National Guard Citizen-Soldier, is also a volunteer fire department chief in the City of Jackson. I wish Doug and his family a swift and as painless a recovery as possible and all the strength they need for the future. I can guarantee that every last one of us is looking forward to that day a few months from now when we get off a plane or bus in Ohio and Doug is there with his trademark flattop haircut and confident if mischievous grin. If not, we’ll get down to Texas after Ohio, come hell or high water.

To aid in the logistics of his recovery and reintegration back to normal life, whenever that may be, a fund has been set up. Anyone who is compelled to donate, may mail their donation to:

The Doug Reed Courage Fund
c/o Atomic Credit Union
711 Beaver Creek Road
Piketon, OH 45661

Things have been heating up in our sector. It seems that it’s a race between various insurgent forces and the coalition to push resources to areas of Afghanistan that AREN’T Helmand or Kandahar. Meanwhile, we’re left holding down the fort and trying to shape the battlefield for future operations and units. I use this analogy quite a bit, but attempting to train and mentor the Afghan National Army while conducting a heated counterinsurgency at a fervent pace is like trying to repair a jet engine while in flight. It’s tiring and frustrating work. We conditioned ourselves through months of training at Fort Riley and in Hungary for what we refer to – often derisively – as “expectations management”. We set our sights on realistic goals, if low, to prevent burnout. We know that we’re not going to turn our unit into the unit that finds Bin Laden and wins the war in six short months. But we can nudge them a little closer to whatever a successful unit is considered to be by the folks on the strategic level. Well… setting your sights low isn’t enough sometimes. Performance of simple tasks which are considered completely remedial in our Army cannot be overlooked in the Afghan National Army. They’re remedial to us because they’re backed by 500 years of western military tradition, but to the ANA they’re often novel concepts. I have to keep forcing myself to step back and make sure I’m looking at my ANA through the proper filter. To fighters in Afghanistan – be they ANA, insurgent or other – fighting the Soviets, fighting between the various factions during the post-Soviet era or the Taliban roll-in, and even fighting the invading American forces early in the war, the common model of success to emulate was that of the insurgent’s ambush party. While we won’t have ANA tanks, infantry and helicopters conducting complex combined-arms assaults anytime soon, it is a small improvement to get them to take canteens and radios to an operation with them. It’s just not how they previously operated, and it’s not what success used to be defined as for them. While we have seen some very good ANA units come and go, and sparks of brilliance within our own ANA, we are at – in most areas – a sub-basic-training level still.

Things here are as okay as they can be, otherwise. Missions have been coming and going and days have been blurring together. Instead of telling me things have peaked and the worst is behind us, every combat action leads me to believe another more intense one is still yet to be had. Compared to my time in Iraq, this mission and tour have proven completely different in every possible way. The pace, the intensity, and the opportunity for close combat were completely absent from my previous deployment. I’m happy with having chosen to be an officer and an infantryman, and am lucky to have this opportunity to be a combat advisor. The thing about being a combat advisor in this war, in the north (an up-until-now undersupporrted region) is that even at your home base you’re out in the middle of nowhere. When you go out with your ANA you’re basically way out there with your neck out, with significantly fewer ANA troops than you’d like, way more vulnerable than you’re comfortable with, in a place – physically and tactically – where common sense would tell you never to put yourself, running around trying to get somebody else’s army to do those things that your army would do instinctively. I remarked to my sergeant soon after one of our major troops-in-contact events, “you know, I would have really liked to know what it’s like to go into combat with a company of 120 U.S. infantry soldiers all around me just to know what it’s supposed to feel like before I go in there with a few dozen ANA.”

Time is a relative and tricky thing in our existence right now. More resources and U.S. forces roll into the north on a daily basis. Some units move in virtually overnight, some units have been taking painstaking weeks or months to get here (namely the ones we NEED). MSG Reed was the beneficiary of a newcomer surgical team to our neighborhood. Sometimes a day will take forever to get over with. Today, I sit here wondering where the last two weeks went. I look at tomorrow and the next few weeks and agonize over a mile-long list of things I need to bring to my ANA commander’s attention that we need to work on or pay attention to. By tomorrow I’ll probably be paring it down, wondering what the most important things are for me to work on to set the stage before my replacement arrives. Trying to perceive time in the 700MPH-or-0MPH world of combat advising in the north is like being trapped in the famous painting The Persistence of Memory.

Here’s a story from the ISAF (International Security And Assistance Force) website that highlights an event from one of our more recent missions:

Other than that, I still occupy a spot on the waitlist at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and hope to hear in a few weeks whether I’m far up enough on the list to be offered a spot in their first round of offers. Until then, the most I can really do from Afghanistan is add another letter of recommendation to my packet and try to find the time to retake an undergraduate class or two for a better grade. I’m registered for a correspondence class, but with the way our internet connection’s been working and the way our summer operations tempo has been picking up, I may have to ignore the class until we return home in July/August. Any recommendations by folks who have been waitlisted by prestigious graduate schools are more than welcome :o)

As we plod forward through our tour, my immediate future is pretty hazy and I’m okay with that. I want to make huge plans and jump into a 2010 campaign, start applying for jobs, or start packing for DC, but the truth is I have no idea what the first few months back home will look like. I came home from Iraq on January 11 2005 and immediately moved in with Mary and started 18 hours of classes on January 17 and didn’t give it a rest until our honeymoon seven months later. In retrospect, it may have been wiser to take some time off and enjoy life. Until I figure out school or a job upon coming home, I’m okay with spending time alone with Mary, seeing an Indians game or two, reintegrating enormous cheeseburgers into my weekly diet, and not having to make 30-50 decisions daily.

Our mailing address has changed, as they inevitably do, and I’ve included it below. I would say May 15th is the absolute latest day something can be sent to me.
RUSSELL GALETI
OMLT ORTHUS
CAMP KHELAGAI
APO AE 09368

As always, you can read this and previous posts or pass along the link: www.russellgaleti.wordpress.com

I am sincerely grateful for all the letters, packages, emails, and encouragement folks have been sending my way. Again, the most important items we can possibly receive are new and gently-used children’s clothing, school supplies and first-aid supplies for the people in our area. Please keep Master Sergeant Reed and his family in your prayers as he recovers from his injuries.

Sincerely,
Russell Galeti

Pro patria!

RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

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1LT Galeti

1LT Russell P. Galeti, Jr., during an operation in March 2010, overlooking the village of Qaysar Khel, Baghlan, Afghanistan

Nawroz Mubarak, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Happy New Year to you all. As I write this, today is the 5th of Hamal, 1389 here in Afghanistan. The new year came to our little piece of Baghlan Province without much incident, though the last six weeks have certainly been eventful.

First, I would like to announce that I was speaking with Mary just tonight and she informed me that I have been waitlisted for the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Considering it’s my first serious attempt at graduate school admission, I am encouraged with my foothold on the beach and will continue to do everything in my ability from way out here in Afghanistan to secure a seat in that prestigious institution. I would like to, in this very public forum, sincerely thank Dr. Gargan, Major General Wayt, and Lieutenant Colonel Dean for their assistance in writing letters of recommendation on my behalf, and to everyone who has offered me advice or encouragement in this pursuit. Being waitlisted is a good start, and I intend to ride this waitlist into the ground. I will continue to update on my status as I myself am updated. Everyone keep their fingers crossed.

Finally, after almost two months in-theatre, I’ve found the time to sit down and compose my initial impressions. My eyes are dry and itchy, my appetite has soared through the roof, it’s a rare thing when I can catch more than fifteen minutes to sit down without having to talk to somebody or fix some problem or another, or get more than five or six hours of sleep a night. Today’s a beautiful day, though. Friday is our “off” or, more accurately, “half” day, where we try to do as little as possible. The sun is shining bright, there’s a nice breeze, and a ceiling fan is humming. Laying on the couch, drinking some cold beer and listening to a baseball game would make this quite a pleasant afternoon.

It’s hard to believe that we’re already one-third of the way through our too-short mission here in Afghanistan. Considering how slow the two “extra” weeks we had in Hungary were, these two months have flown by at breakneck speed. As I reflect on my time here thus far, I already see my time here in Afghanistan in a very bittersweet way. I already feel quite strongly that I will remember this time as some of the most fulfilling and meaningful work I will have ever done, but on the other hand, it’s quite possibly the most frustrating darn job I’ve ever had, as well. It’s an amazing thing, as a just a plain old Ohio National Guard infantry officer, to have a share in this combined Hungary-U.S. Operational Mentor and Liaison Team; and to reside at this incredible nexus of a N.A.T.O.-led coalition with German higher command; U.S. conventional forces; a Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team; U.S. Special Operations Forces; U.S. civilian governmental agencies such as U.S.A.I.D., U.S.D.A, and Department of State; the Afghan government; the Afghan National Police; the Afghan National Army; most important, the people of Afghanistan; and dozens of other actors. Every time we try to execute a plan or partnership together, it’s the stuff dozens of dissertations are made of. We smile and chuckle to ourselves and derisively mutter “coalition warfare”, shake our heads and throw our hats on the ground, but that’s truly what it is. It won’t bring us world peace in the next week, but it does eventually work. Don’t get me wrong – it’s often frustrating as hell and not a day goes by where I don’t consider the finer merits of knocking someone from one of thirty different countries on their rear. But it brings to life the discussions from every political science class I’ve ever had when I can look at a plan and see how everybody has their own piece or strata within this province, everybody has their own plan, and everybody tries to make it mesh with the others’ plans as best they can.

Just last week, we were out on a mission, and I was with one of my counterparts in the Afghan National Army (ANA) – the company executive officer – and it was a beautiful scene that day. Mountains were all around, the sun was out, and the ANA, OMLT and other forces had spent the day and previous few days working on a project that has a lot of promise to provide improved security in the area. We had been living out of our trucks, staying up nights to pull security and to keep the ANA engaged. As I looked out of the little 4WD Ford Ranger that is the staple vehicle of the ANA over all our vehicles and soldiers and used my best techniques of persuasion and negotiation through an interpreter to explain to the ANA officer how important it is that he wake up a few times during the night to check on his soldiers and make sure his security perimeter was still there, the great satisfaction dawned on me that while I don’t fully quite know what I’d like to be when I grow up and it’s all said and done, I can’t think of much else I’d rather do than be a soldier in the service to my country until I get to that point where I figure out the rest of my life. While I’m sure Mary’s thrilled at the prospects of perpetual training schools and deployments (Georgetown? Are you listening? My wife would like me to stick around for a year or two.), given that less than 40% of American youth are even qualified to join the service nowadays and even fewer are inclined to do so, I’m privileged to get to serve like this, and happy that service is finding meaning here on this mission. The post-Cold War military and the people who make it work has proven itself to be the single most versatile tool of national will that we have at our disposal – from kinetic operations here in Afghanistan to hospital ships off the shore of Haiti, I’m convinced there’s nothing my colleagues and I cannot do.

The beautiful sunset over the landscape might have inspired that moment of job satisfaction more than anything, but it was simultaneously one of the scariest darn moments of my life, as well. And I’ve been shot at, rocketed, and IEDd on occasion. The ANA don’t have too many qualified drivers. Many Afghans will never have a car or have the need to drive a car, and so good drivers are sparse. Ever wanting to impress the American lieutenant, I’m sure, this ANA lieutenant kicked out the regular driver to take us up to the hilltop at what was probably 30 or 40 MPH. I’m a thrill-seeker and something of a good driver myself (I tell my wife that I’m ‘aggressively defensive’ whenever she gets on my case about how I drive), but while half my brain was trying to show no fear and remain completely cool while I carried on a nonchalant discussion with my counterpart about security and tried to pretend I had no idea I was being rocketed up a mountainside by a guy I wasn’t even sure knew how to drive, the other half of my brain was on Red Alert, calculating that it would take the truck approximately sixteen rolls down the east side of this hill before we rested in the draw below and frantically comparing our truck’s grip on the hilltop to an old adage I once heard about how mountain goats never lose their footing no matter the terrain. Suffice it to say it was a heck of a scary drive, quite surpassing any contact I’ve ever had.

While I won’t get into thorough details in such a public forum, the last few months have seen us go on several missions and I think just about everybody on our team has been in contact with the enemy at least once now. Personally, I was happy with my conduct under fire. Nothing crazy, I didn’t become Audie Murphy and the situation didn’t call for it. When I made the switch from armor to infantry in 2006, I realized I was giving up the opportunity to close armored hatches, slam on the gas and perform a drive-by when confronted by the enemy. Infantrymen trade those options to go most places in combat on foot with what we can carry, and so we can wear little blue discs and blue cords and blue badges on their dress uniforms. It might sound like a foolish exchange to the uninitiated, but life in the infantry is and will remain the essence of the Army and Marine Corps, and infantrymen all over are proud to be a part of it. I’ve never met an infantryman who did not have a specific reason why he decided to become one. Anyway, while I executed battle drills properly in Iraq, being out of the fight for six years, in a position of higher responsibility now, and a little closer to the actual fight, it had been – and I guess it is probably true of most guys in my position – a lingering question of how I would react the next time I was in contact. I was pleased that I did alright, as did all my Soldiers and most of our ANA. While the contact was by no means a pitched battle or intense, it was the first time I not only heard the pop of a round being fired at me, but also the ‘thwip’ and ‘zing’ of it, and saw the rounds impact nearby. One of my U.S. soldiers and I, after ducking into cover, our first reaction was to start joking about badges we qualified for now that we’ve been shot at. And then rounds started hitting a little closer, so we moved to better spots. I grabbed my ANA commander and an interpreter, and we ran, jogged, or walked (depending on the moment and location) from position to position to make sure people were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to be doing. Aside from the shooting, it was by no means a special event and I’m sure it will happen plenty more while I’m here. I’m sure when I re-tell it after a few Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold beers or when I’m 60, it will be a heck of a story, though.

Last time I dispatched, I had glowing things to say about our relationship with our Hungarian brothers. My words made it around the globe, literally, and preceded me, literally. By the time we got to Camp Khelagai, the Hungarian Ministry of Defense had already forwarded my impressions of deploying to combat as part of our combined team to the unit we were relieving. Tensions have heightened, as they inevitably will in these situations, but my appreciation of the situation remains the same. This is still the most unique experience of my career, and one of the best leadership challenges I’ve ever faced. Being away from home and overcoming language and cultural barriers between the U.S. and Hungarians and the U.S. and A.N.A. are formidable challenges as well. We’ve disagreed and I’m sure just as many guys want to meet me behind the Humvees as I’d like to drag back there sometimes. What keeps me going in the day-to-day, what keeps me optimistic, and what makes me get up every day and ask what I can do as a leader to attack our intra-team differences better daily is that I know at the political and strategic levels, our relationship WORKS. The Hungary-U.S. relationship works, and is a strong one. A lasting and meaningful product of such value to both nations is not going to be without its pain at the tactical level, but soldiers have to see that it’s worth it if our two nations can work together as partners. I think I’m lucky because my academic background and interests give me enough perspective to see what such a relationship means to the U.S., to Ohio, to Hungary, and to N.A.T.O. So, yes, while it’s an enormous pain in my – and my sergeant’s – rear to explain to one of our partners why he has to inspect his vehicle once a week for mechanical deficiencies, and why we get so frustrated with the kinship our partners share with their countrymen in the Provincial Reconstruction Team across town instead of with us, there was never any point where any person in this enterprise was told any part of it would be easy, so why would we expect that now? As long as we continue to not take anything personally, remain professional, and remain soldiers committed to the mission that brought us to Afghanistan, I think we’ll be alright. All that said, I’ve been living in college dorms and military barracks on and off for the last twelve years and am wondering when the day will come when I reach whatever magic rank it is where I don’t have to clean up after other grown men in the kitchen or bathroom. It’s getting old. I wonder if General McChrystal has to put the milk back in the fridge after somebody left it out all night or take out overflowing trash. My wife probably thinks this serves me right, though.

The flood of Soldiers, resources, and governmental support continues into our area, consistent with the Afghan surge strategy we’ve been hearing so much about. It does, in fact, seem that with the operations being conducted throughout the country over the last few months, this will be the summer that makes or breaks the world’s involvement in Afghanistan. I remain optimistic about not only our multinational cooperation, no matter how frustrating it is, but the progress we’re making with the Afghan National Army. Every day, I can find some small part of our relationship with the Hungarians that has improved, or some small advance we’ve made with the Afghan National Army. At the tactical level, that’s the best we can strive for.

Our time continues on here, and I will continue to maintain that six months is not enough time to make the progress we – I – would like to make. Regardless, I have little say in the matter and enjoy talking to Mary about what we will do when I get home. Vacation, graduate school, kids, and all that fun stuff. Until then, tomorrow’s another workday, and we have to give every single day our best effort if we hope to give the team that replaces us a better kandak than we ourselves inherited. I have been receiving letters, cards, and emails all full of encouragement and snacks (except the emails. If that were possible, somebody email me a Great Lakes Brewery Christmas Ale NOW) and sincerely appreciate the time it takes to jot down a few words and send them our way. First aid supplies, school supplies, and new and gently-used children’s shoes and clothing are the best possible things to send, if anything must be sent. In a war to separate insurgents from the population, small tokens like those items will sometimes become a great way to start a conversation, bring a community to come speak to us, or get a person smiling at us. When the stuff is in giant bundles on the backs of trucks at the PRT, it’s called “humanitarian assistance”. When it’s being handed out by an ANA soldier to a child in a village, it becomes kindness, which is an important part of every counterinsurgency.

Unless things change, which I pray they won’t, my address will remain as it is below. If something must reach me, May 15th would be the last date I would send anything, as mail takes approximately 4-6 weeks in either direction. It’s a heck of a Goldberg Device that gets mail to us, but it’s always appreciated. If it’s an acceptance letter to the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, it’s definitely appreciated and should be sent to my Cleveland address.

RUSSELL GALETI
OMLT ORTHUS
CAMP SPANN
APO AE 09354

Once again, my most sincere thanks for all the emails, letters, and well-wishes sent our way.

Russell Galeti

Pro patria!

RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

I’m sorry, but I had to sit on this message for several days to avoid sending out information related to operational security. It was written in real-time, however.

I have since safely made it to RC-North and am getting to work!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The last of our containers and bags had been loaded on the plane and we had our seats. The plane, an enormous C-17 Globemaster, which belongs to a 12-nation heavy airlift wing, was sitting on the tarmac at Papa Airbase, ready to take us into Afghanistan. It would appear as though the moment we’ve all been waiting for had finally arrived.

Aaaaaaaand then, we found out the plane did not have the appropriate diplomatic clearances so we waited overnight in hotels near the Papa Airbase. We came back the next day only to discover that there would be no flight and we’d be delayed two weeks until a charter flight was sorted out.

So now, here we are, killing time at the Budapest Ferihegy airport, at 3AM waiting to catch a chartered Bosnian 737 to a German-run airbase near Mazar E Sharif, where we will begin our journey.

We’ll hit the ground in a few hours, tired and disoriented, and begin a process of processing into the combat zone that will make us both exhausted with bureaucracy and murderously crazy simultaneously. The whole process – from getting into the plane to finally being in the combat zone that has loomed ominously on all our horizons for months – is anticlimax at its best. The Army excels in that area. Though, despite the guaranteed lack of excitement we’ll feel this entire time, I am definitely having a hard time putting a finger on what I’m actually feeling at this point.

Most definitely, if we must go, let us just do it already. There’s no big fear in me. Not the nominal fear, the typical soldier-shaking-in-his-seat fear. We’re not jumping into France tonight. But I can definitely feel a hyperawareness coming back that I haven’t felt since I was in Iraq. In Iraq, the little action we actually saw became commonplace for most of us. In Baghdad, things were blowing up, left and right, several times daily. I know I always assumed – and I’m sure others did, as well – that if one of those big explosions were for me, I’d be the absolute last person to know it, so there’s not much to worry about. The worst of it would be standing at the machine gun on top of a speeding Humvee at the head of a convoy just wondering when that big shock would come that would send the road up around you in all directions. You’re crouched low and tight against the M240 just waiting for it to happen, even for an eight-hour convoy. Well, the hyperawareness is back again, compounded by five years of training for “the next deployment”, five years of watching techniques and battles – both allied and insurgent – unfold in the news and on YouTube. The back muscles are painfully tight once again, the jaw clenches unconsciously to the point where, when I realize I’m doing it, I get scared I’m going to crack a tooth, and I’m chewing on the insides of my cheeks. Terms like “contact with the enemy” start getting changed by your inner monologue into things like “people are actively trying to kill you”. Like I said, and I hope I’m effectively communicating, it’s not so much a typical fear as it is an awareness as the combat zone becomes an abstract thing on the news to its own – our own – reality.

I think it’s appropriate to feel that way. We are going to a real place, where real people are going to try to kill us and we may, or will, have to apply violence in support of our mission. I hope I’m not playing it up, but just portraying the reality of it all. I’m not Eisenhower, but I’ve got responsibilities to foremost accomplish my mission, and to do so as best I can so my US and Hungarian soldiers can come home safely. I’ve got obligations to those soldiers to make the best decisions I can, to give them as much leeway as I can to let them make their own decisions; and to the Afghans to help mentor their army as best we can. So I’ll presume the hyperawareness is a good thing and will help mission accomplishment. Despite it all, I had no problem unwinding in Iraq when it was time to unwind at night or when we’d get a day off. Permanently unwinding the spring, however, took a few years once back home, and hopefully it will not take as long this time around.

The biggest part of our training is behind us and we were able to march proudly to the band playing the Rákóczi March on the parade field at Tata as we passed in review for Dr. Ágnes Vadai, the Senior State Secretary for the Hungarian Ministry of Defense, and Vezérezredes László Tömböl, the four-star general Chief of Defense Staff, as well as a delegation from the U.S. embassy. It was extremely encouraging to see such a distinguished turnout for sixty soldiers. in America, we’ve been deploying so many soldiers so often, it’s easy to feel insignificant. In Hungary, this mission means a great deal to the Hungary-U.S. relationship, and it shows. The Hungarian Army has been extremely accommodating and hospitable to us every step of the way, and the Soldiers are dedicated team players. I’m proud to be going into combat alongside our Hungarian allies and I’m privileged to have even a small part in such a great relationship between our two countries. I truly feel that way. Somebody at our reception after the pass in review commented that the US-Hungary State Partnership Program relationship was probably the best the United States has at present. Having come from Ohio and seeing how hard the Ohio National Guard works at it from our end, and then spending time in Hungary to see how hard the Hungarian military works at it from their end, it’s not a surprise to me at all. This mission will definitely be something everyone can tell their grandkids about for any number of reasons.

Everything else being what it is, I *did* manage to somehow assemble my application packet to the Edmund A . Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Everybody keep your fingers crossed! Mary and I enjoyed our time together during leave and now for her, the hard part starts.Thankfully, it’s only six months. She never fails to roll her eyes and groan when I tell people combat advising tours should be eighteen months in theater because the first six months are just to learn the language, build rapport and learn the lay of the land and then you can start your twelve months of advising duty. She’s definitely been more than a good sport about it.

I’ll be sure to post my impressions of my first few days in Afghanistan as soon as I can get some quality time on a computer. Wish us luck in the coming months!

Our address has a slight change from last time. The Camp Kelagai has been removed, it’s now:

1LT RUSSELL GALETI

OMLT TEAM ORTHUS

CAMP SPANN

APO AE 09354

As always, you can read this and previous posts or pass along the link: http://www.russellgaleti.wordpress.com

Russell Galeti

Pro patria!

RUSSELL P GALETI JR

1LT, IN, OHARNG

Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

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Happy New Year to everyone!

For that matter, given the frequency with which I’ve updated – Happy holidays, Happy Thanksgiving, and a solemn Veterans Day to you all, as well. I must say, I’ve been quite remiss in keeping in touch in this mass forum. It’s not without an excuse, at least, as the last few months have been busy as hell.

There’s so much to tell you all about, and there are a ton of links in this email as I try to incorporate more illustrative forms of media into my updates. Since I last updated, my team has been very busy undergoing the most intense and final phase of our training in Hungary and Germany. There have been many, many moving parts to the last several months, hundreds of hours of training conducted within our team, and many battles fought with a multitude of organizations to help get us as prepared as we can be for our ultimate deployment to Afghanistan this month.

Part of being away from home means having to miss certain events that you come to regularly plan on. It’s the disruptive nature of things like these, and servicemembers who are on fulltime active duty have it even worse. Worse being relative, that is, as we all chose this profession. Still, one of the big events back home every year that I look forward to attending is a Veterans Day breakfast at Brady Middle School in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Mrs. Carol Kapostasy, a teacher there, puts it together every year in conjunction with VFW Post 5799’s Patriot’s Pen essay contest and I’ve been privileged to speak there the last few years. This year, I obviously was not able to make it, but sent my message over the internet.

October and November were pretty rough months which mainly saw two of my favorite things: a lot of time on weapons ranges, and time spent in the classroom focused on counterinsurgency and combat advising. The time spent outdoors got to be hellishly cold and wet, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way. The time discussing counterinsurgency and combat advising made some guys’ brains hurt so bad, I’m sure they would have spent an entire month outside in the cold and wet just to get out of the classroom.

The weaponry is important for obvious reasons. When we have to act quickly to destroy an identified enemy target, we must be able to expertly wield any weapon system at hand. Most of our training in direct-fire weapons systems has been defensive (reflexive fire and transitioning between a rifle which has just run out or malfunctioned and your pistol) because under normal circumstances there should be several echelons of ANA between us and the enemy. Still, variations between our western-bloc NATO-standard equipment and the Hungarians’ former eastern-bloc equipment caused us to have to familiarize ourselves with every system they had, and vice-versa. If, in the heat of an engagement, the only weapon you can find is a Hungarian machine-gun, you better know how to use it, and you sure as hell better know how to perform immediate action if or when it stops firing. The links below are to a video clip showing one of my soldiers (left position) and myself (right position) tossing both Hungarian and U.S. hand grenades at a target. With all the gear we had on, there’s a fair share of short tosses and some good-natured salty language from other soldiers, um, cheering us on. Hungarian Horseshoes – (a few bad words, nothing you haven’t heard before, though). Below that, there is also a short clip of me firing a rocket-propelled grenade, the insurgents’ weapon of choice, and a common weapon in the Hungarian and Afghan armies.

Putting together and teaching the counterinsurgency and combat advising classes were by far my favorite part. It was the part we were the most worried about translating properly from our military’s culture to the Hungarians’. While, on one hand, more Hungarians on the team have been deployed to Afghanistan than Americans, the training we received at Fort Riley will go down in my book as the single best thing the Army’s ever done for me and we wanted to be able to present its lessons to the Hungarians just right. If you get too academic or theoretical, you’re bound to lose most of your soldiers. You must repeatedly reinforce that tactics in counterinsurgency have just as much relevance and importance for the individual soldier as any offensive or defensive task. We tried as best as we could to present condensed versions of many of the culture, history, and social geography lessons we were fortunate enough to have received at Fort Riley and were pretty successful in getting points across.

One amazing and unlikely teaching device that Army instructors have seemed to warm up to is five to ten minute video clips offered on the internet via sites like YouTube, which can underscore just about any point one is trying to make. They were invaluable in helping drive home points that we were making in our counterinsurgency and combat advising classes, and soldiers could go back to them on their own time and review things they didn’t quite get the first time around. If you can take the time to watch most of these recommended videos, you’ll be guaranteed to know more about the last few years in Afghanistan than any of your friends or coworkers. Seriously, though, as mainstream America still has trouble grasping the full commitment that a war of this kind requires not only from the military domain but diplomatic, economic, media, and in terms of national willpower, a few of the videos below are excellent “energy bars” of information that really cut through a lot of the haze for many people.

Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire & The Afghan Campaign has a five-part video series, approximately 20 minutes’ total investment where he discusses the tribal nature of Afghanistan and even manages to strip away religious arguments while comparing Alexander The Great’s experiences in Afghanistan to our experiences today. It’s an extremely insightful perspective and only takes about 20-25 minutes at five minutes a pop:

Episode 1 – “It’s The Tribes, Stupid”

Episode 2 – “The Citizen Versus The Tribesman”

Episode 3 – “Tribes Are Different From You And Me”

Episode 4 – “Fighting A Tribal Enemy”

Episode 5 – “How To Win In Afghanistan”

CBS 60 Minutes Combat in Afghanistan: Lara Logan and 60 Minutes spend a month with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and see some intense combat. While this video does not demonstrate much interaction with Afghan security forces, it does illustrate what a truly up-close fight this is. The technology and stand-off Americans have been accustomed to seeing since the Gulf War are usually last resorts in this kind of fight. Gritty, determined soldiers and their gritty, determined opponents. These men are not pushovers, and while this video displays a lot of the strictly combat engagements, things get even more difficult when civilian considerations, local government and local politics come into play.

Beating The Taliban By The Book: Made by the same folks who made the Lost in Translation video, this something less of a good-news story. Here, U.S. soldiers – just as tough and smart as the soldiers featured in the 60 Minutes piece are shown, but through a lens of counterinsurgency. The way they interact with the population does not endear the soldiers to their tribal nature. They seem more concerned about complaining about electricity, water and toilets on their base than the situation outside it. They are gruff with elders, disregard a lot of nuance needed in dealing with tribesmen, and lack self-awareness of how they’re probably, in turn, perceived by the Afghans.

Lost in Translation – Afghanistan: A lot of salty language, but a good lesson. This video shows how difficult it is to relate to and communicate with the native populace on our own. Thus, why it’s so important we strengthen the Afghan security forces. Watch how one frustrated soldier communicates gruffly with a man who is many years older than him, using an inadequate interpreter. We used this video as a lesson in gauging and finding a good interpreter, but it also illustrates how a soldier without the proper training – not just language, but people skills, leader engagements and COIN training – can affect a situation for the worse. He’s no doubt a good soldier, and trying, but frustrated because he hasn’t entered the situation properly prepared and with appropriate expectations.

As always, with sites like YouTube, just assume that any comments posted below the videos are made by the dumbest people the world has to offer and please don’t think I support or endorse any of the rubbish third parties will post beneath those videos.

In my attempts to further impress the importance of patience in counterinsurgency, Mary had a chance to interact with Army Chief of Staff GEN George W. Casey, Jr., at the City Club of Cleveland earlier in November and ask him a question I sent her from Hungary. Click here to listen:

Thanksgiving was spent in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where we had a culminating mounted gunnery range and didn’t really get a Thanksgiving proper, but nobody seemed to mind too much. A wonderful organization known as Operation Baking GALS (http://www.bakinggals.com/) sent (literally) several hundred pounds of homemade cookies, brownies, and other such treats right before we left, so it really, really made up for a lot of the stuff we missed during your typical Thanksgiving feast. There really were some amazing ladies and families who were incredibly kind in sending us their recipes and treats. I was also lucky enough to say hi to my friends at WNYC’s The Takeaway for a brief interview about our Thanksgiving plans. Click here to hear:

Other than the exciting training that’s occupied our final phase, life has had its typical ups and downs for all of us. Some rugged terrain and about 100 lbs of gear during one of our field exercises caused a pretty nasty sprained ankle (worse than my wedding!) that kept me out of my gear and off my foot for the better part of a few weeks. Weekends off and passes here and there saw groups of Soldiers hit Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia, among other places. My wife, Mary, came out to Vienna for a three-day pass that was absolutely lovely. We had planned on spending a four-day pass in Zurich, Switzerland, but she had a bad case of the flu, and international air travel is just the wrong thing to do in that situation. I went to Zurich on my own (damn!) and though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have with her, I found it amazing, if expensive, and am excited to go back there together someday. Most recently, as our training was winding down in Hungary, Mary was able to come out for our final week and see what life in Tata was like, where we could make a pit stop in Berlin to see my good friend and fellow OIF veteran Josh Gnizak and his wonderful girlfriend, before heading back to the States for Christmas leave. Berlin was amazing, futuristic, and had some bitter cold wind for the third week in December, but a great time was had. After Berlin, we had just the absolute damnedest time trying to get back to the States, as the holiday Snowpocalypse of 2009 had beset the eastern seaboard. After about four real and three theoretical flight itineraries and a small bribe to a ticket agent later, we ended up having to overnight in Newark, New Jersey and getting into Cleveland about sixteen hours later than scheduled. Jet lag and European Central Time has been taking its toll – I’m passed out by 10pm and wired at 4am. Christmas leave has come and practically gone and has been pretty bittersweet – a series of hellos, only to have to say goodbye soon afterward. With the love I have for the subject, I could make a career out of counterinsurgency and stability in Afghanistan, but part of me wants the next few months to zip by, for sure. Mary and I talked about the family aspects of a deployment to The Takeaway on New Year’s Day. Click here to listen:

Other than that, leave has been wonderful, even in the mundane things. I’ve done some laundry, got a dentist appointment in, got a new driver’s license… Being boring and not rushed can be good fun sometimes. My attempt to get into the MS in Foreign Service program at Georgetown’s Walsh School continues. I retook the GREs on the 28th and most of my application is in, with just a week to go before the deadline. January 5th will see me fly back to Budapest and sometime after that, we’ll finally enter Afghanistan. It only gets more serious from here.

And, while the start of a new year is usually the most symbolic time to start something new – hence, all the resolutions people make – I’ve never been much for resolutions. I either do something in the most quick and direct manner as possible, or I don’t. I can’t keep my room clean to save my life and though I did reach a weight goal this year, I never intended to do it by passing up all the potted-meat rations we’ve been getting in Hungary. As our boots-on-the-ground time draws nearer, I’ve been thinking more and more about the land we will all soon be risking our lives in, the war that is bringing us there and the tens of thousands of lives it has taken or shattered, and I have been taking in all the recent national soul-searching that has become popular about this eight-year-old war. I’ve also more than once been inspired by my good friend and fellow veteran and officer 1LT Kristen L. Rouse, the founder of Veterans for Afghanistan (http://www.veteransforafghanistan.org/) and the idea that the legacy of coalition nations in Afghanistan does not have to be one exclusively of war.

As an infantry company advisor, my role is somewhat limited when I am in Afghanistan in that my ANA counterpart must be the virtually sole focus of my influence, and – we hope – it will then be up to him to wield what we call non-lethal effects for the counterinsurgency. I have a great respect for the fact that everything we do as servicemembers in Afghanistan and as veterans of Afghanistan after our time there is over reflects directly on the legacy of the United States and its allies. While I hope we are able to go a long way with nonlethal effects and humanitarian assistance missions, I am not naïve to the fact that our operations will largely be offensive and defensive engagements. Regardless of what events or circumstance have in store for us while I’m in Afghanistan, I’ve decided that the best way to contribute to the country beyond my official military duties is by sponsoring an Afghan orphan through the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO – www.afceco.org). They are a great organization which partners with CharityHelp International, a U.S. 501(c)(3) organization, to establish orphanages throughout the country to care for Afghan orphans. It’s just one more, simple, small thing I can do to help the situation in Afghanistan.

I will say this: I am intensely interested in helping the people of Afghanistan within the confines of my combat duties or outside of them. My combat duties are my paramount priority and I may get to do nothing but them my entire time there. I can accept that but will continue to look for opportunities to apply nonlethal effects in our area. That said, I don’t mind if I don’t get a single Rice Krispie treat or bottle of Gatorade while I’m over there. If, as you’re doing your end-of-the-holiday clearance shopping, or cleaning out your attic, or whatever and have things that can be of use to Afghans, feel free to bombard my mail – shoes, winter clothes, school supplies and household first aid supplies are probably among the most important things that can be sent. If you or somebody you know doesn’t feel like sending anything, but still wants to make a personal contribution to stability in Afghanistan, visit the AFCECO site. We can all play a part in stabilizing Afghanistan.

Until we move or leave sometime this summer, my address in Afghanistan will be:

1LT RUSSELL GALETI
OMLT TEAM ORTHUS
CAMP SPANN\CAMP KELAGAI
APO AE 09354

I hope 2010 brings greater prosperity to our country and renewed resolve from the American people to stand by our commitments to the people of Afghanistan. A very, very happy new year to all. Your continued well-wishes and support are truly amazing and mean such a great deal to all of us.

Russell Galeti
Pro patria!
Russell P Galeti Jr
RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team
“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid
foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

Should anybody like to join the listserv, please have them email galeti+subscribe at googlegroups.com
Should you wish to unsubscribe, please email galeti+unsubscribe at googlegroups.com

Greetings, all!

In my last update, we were sick, tired, and dragging tons of luggage across the Atlantic and Europe to Hungary. After having spent just over one month training in Hungary thus far, I can say that the situation has greatly improved. Coalition warfare is most definitely not without its challenges, but when you put things into the proper perspective, five hundred years ago we still weren’t certain the earth was round. Today we’re trying extraterritorial collective security as committee-ed by twenty-eight countries. We’re either incredibly ambitious, incredibly foolish, or both! Regardless, I am excited to see the strides at coalition warfare made, however messy and frustrating it may look.

There is so much to talk about that I have a hard time assembling my thoughts in any kind of logical manner, but will try. The second phase of our mission is well underway, as we have been stationed in Tata, Hungary and training with our Hungarian Ground Force (Honvédség, “HONE- ved-sheg”, literally, ‘corps of homeland defenders’) since the end of August. Tata, the home to our mission and its supporting brigade, is a semi-rural town of about 25,000 in northwestern Hungary, approximately
45 miles northwest of the capital, Budapest.

Hungary is a beautiful country with a past full of tragic stories. Hungary’s lonely and unlikely existence in central Europe is best explained by Hungarian-born author Arthur Koestler. “Hungarians are the only people in Europe without racial or linguistic relatives in Europe, therefore they are the loneliest on this continent. This… perhaps explains the peculiar intensity of their existence… Hopeless solitude feeds their creativity, their desire for achieving… To be Hungarian is a collective neurosis.”

In a more comical, less flattering estimation of the Hungarian condition, physicist Enrico Fermi, a firm believer in extraterrestrials once asked a colleague at the Los Alamos nuclear facility, “Where are they?”

Hungarian-born physicist Leo Szilard responded, “They are among us, but they call themselves Hungarians.”

Dr. Agi Risko of The Ohio State University’s Slavic Department did an amazing job preparing us for Hungary and even with her help, it sure is tough to fit in! Hungarian language is in no way related to any nearby languages but Finnish. It uses the latin (A, B, C…) alphabet, so it seduces you into thinking it might share some words with a Germanic or a Romance language. But there are so few shared words, and so much relies upon the pronunciation that it’s almost tonal like Chinese. Over 30% of the words in Hungarian have unknown origin. Many of our Soldiers who have questionable grasps on English are learning the pronunciation game the hard way, and Hungarian locals do not play along. The word for five is “öt” which sounds like “ut”. Some guys pronounce it a little too long and it sounds like “oot”. Beer is “sor”, pronounced like “shoar”. Five of us were standing in a group at a not-so-busy bar one night. The American buying beer goes “oot shoar”, while pointing to the tap and the assembled group of would-be beer-drinkers. He might as well have said “Buick Monkeywrench” to this lady, because she was looking at him as if he had.

The Hungarians will just stare at us all day until we’ve pronounced the word thirty different ways. I was in an American-style grille that sold nothing but hamburgers and hot-dogs. The menu spelled them “hamburger”. I thought I said “hamburger” about twelve times before the waitress understood “hamburger,” which is apparently pronounced more like “AM-bul-gelr”. Envision Steve Martin repeating and repeating “hamburger” in the Pink Panther remake. It’s funny until it’s you! I wish Hungarian was a little easier to pick up. I will probably get a solid vocabulary of close to a hundred words and spend more time working on my Dari. I would like to test for a language skill identifier for Dari when I am done with the deployment, and one language will be more useful in combat than will the other, unfortunately.

Aside from losing everything in translation, it’s enough to give a guy a personality disorder to have to slip between Hungarian customs and language, while trying to independently learn Dari language and customs, while being American among Americans and Hungarians. Then, every once and awhile, to really trip me up, I’ll have to bust out my two years of Kent State German because our Hungarian is just absolutely failing us. In Vienna, Austria, this past weekend – and after a few rounds – our table sounded like the Tower of Babel. There sat five guys who each knew a few dozen words in a few different languages. English was met with Hungarian, was answered with Dari Persian, a wiseass would throw out some Spanish and I would come back with German. It was a mess. You wouldn’t know what to make of it. But, we tipped well.

The Hungarian soldiers we are working with/for are great men and thankfully pretty easy to work with. The Hungarian soldier or military as a whole have nowhere near the advantages afforded by wealth or history to the U.S. armed forces, but are doing well and making valuable contributions to NATO, EUFOR, KFOR and ISAF with what they do have. It’s impressive. The Hungarian commander, the overall commander for the mission, has a commanding presence for his slight stature. His English is spoken very haltingly and forcefully with exaggerated, slicing hand gestures to match. It looks like he would be more at home commanding a Cold War T-72 battalion or as the villain in a remade Red Dawn than a combat advisor.

With regard to combat advising, we are in an incredibly tricky situation.As I remarked in my last update, the U.S. prepared us incredibly well for the mission by creating and putting us through the Combat Advisor Development Course (CADC). For a mission that is normally conducted by special operations forces, the eight-week course was spot-on in educating us with background, language, history, and techniques; and changing perceptions among our group. A Soldier can learn a tactic immediately, but changing his mind and having him not only believe it’s a good tactic but rely on it instinctively and espouse it to others can take weeks, months or years. A short version of the course is simply not enough for conventional soldiers.

What’s less desirable than a shortened course, however, is no course, which is unfortunately where our partners currently stand. In the absence of knowing what specifically to train for while we’re here in Hungary for several months, the Hungarians prefer to train on squad and platoon tactics. While one can never be too proficient in running through a field, assaulting a stationary machinegun as if you were a private in a rifle squad (I ran a rifle squad – I know this) it will have little impact on the success of our mission, compared to the knack for subtle nuance, influencing through interpersonal relationships, and massive amounts of patience required for combat advising. Having not had any kind of course, the Hungarians may not know what they don’t know. They’re in charge of the mission, but we have the training and the knowledge. So, without being overbearing, or condescending, or just simply bad friends/allies, we have to subtly influence the Hungarians’ training selections to reflect a more COIN- friendly schedule. A week to work on infantry squad tactics will, after several training meetings, turn into two days of tactics and three days of counterinsurgency classroom discussion. Boring for the guys who have done it once already? Everybody but me, yes. Frustrating for the guys who sit through the training meetings to get last-minute left-turns? Oh, yeah. Worth it when half of sixty guys don’t deploy to Afghanistan thinking their jobs are to close with and destroy al Qaeda and leave their ANA five hundred meters behind them? The future will tell. If we can influence our partners to accept counterinsurgency tactics as we have, we’ve doubled the number of people who can effectively influence our Afghan National Army counterparts. This is our holy grail until we hit Afghanistan.

It goes back to the same initial statements on counterinsurgency that I tell anybody on the subject – there are fundamental universalities between counterinsurgency and political campaigning, countergang operations, or good old-fashioned community-centered police patrolling. If I do end up writing academically on our experiences after this deployment, it may be to advocate for ISAF forces to attend our combat advisor training in the United States. It’s simply invaluable to this effort.

Being a leader is going about the same as it ever does. When things go poorly, if by some miracle it’s not your fault to begin with, you have to be the absolute last person to get a bad attitude about it and the first person to come up with a better solution to the situation. Your attitude will always make or break the situation for the younger guys, it seems. There’s one officer in Ohio I’ve known since I first got in eleven years ago who I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get upset about anything, ever. I constantly ask myself how Major Whoever would handle a situation and how my day-to-day behavior measures up. There’s battlefield gallantry and then there’s day-to-day gallantry, and a few certain leaders will always stand out in my mind for exhibiting it and impressing it upon me to try and do the same.

Other than that, I can probably ramble on about assorted minutiae for a few more pages. But I won’t. Our accommodations are nice, probably the best this garrison has to offer – one more indication of the true sincerity and hospitality with which our allies are approaching this relationship. My senior sergeant and I share a two-bedroom suite with one shower and a fridge that is so frosted-over it looks more like the ice planet from The Empire Strikes Back. When not being kept in line by our saintly wives, we have definitely reverted back to bachelordom – except he’s in his forties and I’m in my twenties, so it’s kind of like my father and I got an economy apartment together. But I’m his boss. The platoon leader / platoon sergeant relationship is one of much conjecture, lore, and horror stories in today’s Army but I think I’m very lucky with the one I’ve got, and I’d venture to say he tolerates me. All joking aside, I have enough experience as a former staff sergeant to know exactly what my officer job is and is not, and I think that helps our working relationship immensely. Together, we execute training and missions as best we can while taking care of our Soldiers. However it works, it works.

At this point, we have a few more months in Hungary, with advanced training in Germany, and then in early 2010 will begin our time in Afghanistan. That time when I come home is still beyond the horizon, but not so far as to keep me from applying for jobs and graduate programs as I have no idea what I’ll be doing when I return.
Currently, I’ve passed the Foreign Service Written Exam and have an opportunity to sit for the oral assessment deferred until I return. I am also applying to the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and still looking at many other schools, programs, and jobs. I am sure there will be no shortage of things to keep me busy presenting themselves when I return.

Like I said previously, we’re living off the economy in Hungary and are generally able to get what we need. Letter and chocolate-chip cookies will be disposed of efficiently however.

My address until mid-December will be:

1LT RUSSELL GALETI
UNIT 9905 BOX 5
APO AE 09745

If anybody wishes to drop me a line, feel free! I hear from quite a few new people every time I send one of these and love hearing what everyone’s up to and corresponding about this experience. My email addresses are russell.galeti at gmail.com or russell.galeti at us.army.mil

Should anybody like to join the listserv, please have them email
subscribe+galeti at googlegroups.com

Should you wish to unsubscribe, please email unsubscribe+galeti at googlegroups.com

Russell Galeti

Pro patria!

Russell P Galeti Jr

RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775

Greetings and Ramadan Mubarak, everyone!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This week marked the conclusion of Combat Advisor training at Fort Riley and a major accomplishment toward our inevitable deployment to Afghanistan. While not too much has changed since my last email update, our training has continued to progress, and we are now traveling to begin our next phase in Hungary. We’ve had our successes and frustrations, and have pretty much run the gamut of emotions available to men willingly at the mercy of the United States Army. In my opinion, the best parts of our training were the cultural awareness and combat advisor classes. Over the last few weeks, we’ve covered what I would consider to be one of the most versatile and compact curricula an Army course could offer. The training itself and the concept of combat advising is not physically or tactically demanding (though the better off you are in both areas, the better you will perform) but is still, unique in its own right, one of the toughest jobs the armed forces have currently. Comparatively, it’s easy enough to get any Soldier to carry ammunition to the top of a mountain, wiggle down a tunnel with pistol and flashlight, or to assault an objective – those things require relatively simple understandings of what is being asked of the Soldiers. What I see as incredibly difficult to overcome – and I’ve spoken at length about it – is changing the Soldiers’ perceptions to see their Afghan Soldiers as true counterparts and partners in these endeavors. To get them to use the “soft skills” necessary to enable their Afghans to do the tactical work confidently and competently. To impress those lessons upon a kinetically-charged Captain is hard enough, let alone a similarly-minded Private. Carrying it even further, once – if – we can successfully change the Soldiers’ individual perceptions, only then can we successfully work toward changing perceptions among our host-nation counterparts and citizens. It’s a complicated and delicately balanced Goldberg Device of perception-changing and influencing that is way more akin to political campaigning or countergang operations than to anything our Soldiers expected when they sign up to be Combat Engineers or Infantrymen.

As luck would have it, however, that’s where having Soldiers like our team’s -intelligent, experienced, and volunteers – is paying off in droves. As I’ve also mentioned many times before (even in reference to my 2004 Iraq tour), that’s also where using reservists as combat advisors will pay off. Another pillar of our strength exists in our team leader. His dedication to simple common sense in the Army (gasp) as well as Special Forces-borne sentiments really help to set the tone and communicate to our Soldiers better than I ever could exactly what combat advising is and is not. His time spent in Europe also helps us to remember that we are there to not only support the Afghans, but to support the Hungarians as THEY support the Afghans. As we explain our job over and over again, to each other and to outsiders, we constantly remind that we are training to be “the world’s best Number Two men” in support of our allies. If they finish their missions confident and competent in their abilities to advise in the Hungarians’ case or to fight in the Afghans’ case, while we have toiled silently in the background to help achieve that end, I think we’ll have been successful. If I weren’t scared of screwing everything up by saying so, I’d say it seems that a lot of these factors are coalescing to give us a supreme advantage when we hit the ground in a few months. As always, however, the enemy has a vote.

Dedicated Taliban, foreign fighters, and independent bandits have been casting their bloody votes throughout the country in form of increased attacks, bombings and intimidation as the good people of Afghanistan also attempted to exercise their rights, either in fear or in spite of the terrorists. Things have definitely been escalating where we anticipate going, but it’s no Helmand province. Between Ramadan and the elections, it’s tough to say if this is a long-term trend or if it will taper off soon. Also, things may only appear to be escalating because our awareness of and familiarity with the area is growing. Tough to say, but I guess we’ll find out when we get there. Right now, both parties are claiming a victory and I am confident it will take a few weeks to come to a final determination. I do not know enough about Dr. Abdullah to know whether or not he’d be a better president than Karzai, but I know that the system is trying to work as best it can and I’m impressed thus far. Once again, I remind all that it was twenty-one years from our own Declaration of Independence to our first successful transition of power from Washington to Adams and we did not have near the internal strife that Afghanistan has.

Strategic stuff aside, daily life at Riley toward the end of our training has been, really, neither hectic nor dull in the way that the Army has so absolutely mastered over 270-some years. Our later training included more tactical, team-building, and (SOP) procedure-developing exercises such as military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) as well as convoy live fire training. Most of the teams that come to Riley have much less time training together than we do, and so need as much time as possible to “storm, form, and norm” or just gel as a team. Formally, this means developing standard operating procedures and evaluating each Soldier’s strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Below, I’ve managed to include a link to a audio recording of our mounted combat patrol. As our training grows more complex in Hungary, I will attempt to videotape some things, but in this case, I had the iPhone tucked into my body armor and found that it did an adequate job of picking up my radio transmissions as well as my other two trucks. In this exercise, we spent approximately twenty minutes (after several days of classroom training and hours of dry runs) driving along a road in a four-vehicle convoy. At different intervals, based on the targets presented and the situation as briefed, we would be expected to execute battle drills according to our SOP. Examples include engaging far targets with the vehicle’s machineguns while stopped, discriminating between friendly and enemy targets, reacting to an IED, recovering an immobile damaged vehicle, sending out and recovering dismounted Soldiers and evacuating casualties. If you’ve got twenty minutes and would like to hear what a worst-case scenario convoy might sound like, it’s a decent primer :o)

Audio recording example of Mounted Combat Patrol training at Fort Riley, Kansas.

I’ve got to say that Riley did not treat us badly. Fort Bragg did, back in 2003, but we were a 5,000-man National Guard brigade and they were woefully unprepared for our mobilization. At the least, Riley has done a great job institutionalizing as best it can the Combat Advisor School. It’s obvious that more resources were thrown into it than are most efforts of the same scope. The Army took an entire combat brigade and turned it into a combat advisor training brigade – the growing pains felt among First Brigade, First Infantry Division were apparent but appreciated by myself, at least. Soldiers were taken from their military jobs to teach marksmanship for a year, or teach Hummvee driving. You could tell they longed to get out in the woods and be scouts or infantrymen again, but they did their duty – like Soldiers – and trained us and I hope I can effectively communicate my thanks to those men for that. LTC Nagl, one of the leading minds in counterinsurgency, heavily influenced the school and its curriculum and we’re all privileged to study it, and grateful that the Army knew when to listen to him and his academic peers. It’s no surprise that a focal point of his work at the Center for New American Security is to push for fixed, regular, resourced combat advisory units cast in the mold of what we’re doing. It’s a much better fit than taking scouts and infantrymen and risking turning them off to the Army forever by throwing them a 180-degree turn like this every now and then.

Traveling to Hungary is quite the difficult experience. Since we’re so small and going to a non-US installation, it was decided that we would fly commercially. I can’t stand flying commercially with one piece of checked luggage, let alone the godawful messy scene we had at the airport this morning. Our connection to our trans-Atlantic flight flew at 8am, which had us checking in at Kansas City at 6am. Since Riley is two hours’ drive west of Kansas City, we had to leave no later than 4am. Luggage is to be our downfall today. Each Soldier carries with him *at least* four of the traditional Army duffel bags, one monstrous external-framed rucksack, and a gun case with an assault rifle and semiautomatic pistol. Multiply that by twenty-eight Soldiers. Then add extra “team” equipment and the total was 120-something duffel bags and several large tool-chests full of files and other equipment. This required a 3am load-up on the charter bus and trailer that would transport us to the airport. Prior to this load-up, we had to be “deployed” by Riley which required two hours (so from 1am to 3am) on the schedule, but really only consisted of us walking three blocks to scan our ID cards in a computer which then classified us as OCONUS (outside the continental United States). I, personally, checked 10 pieces of luggage today because I carry an additional five bags of “team gear” which we’ve scrounged through stalwart friends out here at Riley so we can trade, barter, or reward the Afghans as the situation requires.

The first leg of our journey has gone successfully enough, but the trans-Atlantic leg still awaits. Brown passports, assault rifles into Europe, young Soldiers and over 130 pieces of luggage is yet another Goldberg Machine that scares the living daylights out of me. I long for the days of laying atop a pallet of duffel bags in the freezing recesses of a buzzing C-130 or C-5. But, then again, I get to wear my Tribe cap, a Brooks Brothers button-down (vice 100 lbs of heavy camouflage junk) and enjoy free drinks in the airline lounge during one of my several multi-hour layovers today, so maybe commercial won’t be so bad.

With Riley behind me, I can honestly say I have no idea what to expect when I hit the ground in Hungary. Dr. Agi Risko at The Ohio State University was the kindest of collaborators in helping to train us up as best she could in cultural, language and historical areas (story here). Despite the language barriers, I know our counterparts and we will ultimately communicate using the universal language of men of arms. Bad food, jokes about women, flatulence, explosions and suffering through inclement weather can bond men from anywhere, in this I am supremely confident. Our training may mirror most of what we’ve already accomplished at Riley, but it’s much, much more important now because we’re doing it with our Hungarian counterparts. Now comes the hardest part of the job for an American soldier – taking a backseat and letting somebody else drive. If we can accomplish this, we can accomplish anything else we’re asked to do this year, and I’m confident my Soldiers can.

My new address, superseding any others, until late December will be:

1LT RUSSELL P GALETI JR
UNIT 9905, BOX 5
APO, AE 09745

If anybody wishes to drop me a line, feel free. I’m always available at russell.galeti at gmail.com or russell.galeti at us.army.mil

Should anybody like to join the listserv, please have them email subscribe+galeti at googlegroups.com

Should you wish to unsubscribe, please email unsubscribe+galeti at googlegroups.com

Russell Galeti

Pro patria!

Russell P Galeti Jr

RUSSELL P GALETI JR
1LT, IN, OHARNG
Operational Mentor and Liaison Team

“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” – George Washington in a letter to the New York Legislature, June 26, 1775