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A Development Officer in Bamyan

July 2011, Afghanistan.Commander Nabi and SQNLDR John Barrack
Squadron Leader Barrack and Commander Nabi

13 July 2011

by SQNLDR J. Barrack

I'm half way through my deployment as the NZDF’s Development Officer with the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan.  My tour as the ‘S5’ has been different to that of my predecessor’s for reasons I'll explain, but first I’ll share some impressions I've gained in the short time I've been in this economically poor, but culturally and historically rich part of Afghanistan.

I'm a long way from home and at times the separation is very real, despite having connectivity with e-mail, internet and phone. Not being able 'to have and to hold' my wife and be with family and friends is a burden I accept, as I know there are others in the military for whom long separations are routine. Waiting for mail you know has been sent accentuates the distance, but I don't lack for anything here at Kiwibase.

There's a good atmosphere here and while little frustrations get aired occasionally we know we're all in it together. I'm surrounded by Army folk, both NZ and American, yet I don't think of them as Army, any more than I think of myself as Air Force. Even during pre-deployment training I felt part of a team preparing for a mission, and that has continued.

On the ground here in Bamyan the team is bigger than those that trained at Linton. In addition to the military personnel there are government civilian staff, locally employed staff, and contractors. Everyone is working to make the PRT work.

I initially focused on completing projects left for me by earlier rotations. Now I've started working with Provincial Government staff, helping them manage their own projects and programmes instead of relying on the NZPRT to do this work.  It takes longer helping someone do a job you’re familiar with, than it does to do it yourself, but this way we leave behind the skills that assist them in the future.

The NZDF funding stream pays for a small portion of NZPRT development work. The majority of expenditure has come from the US Government via the US Army's Commander's Emergency Response Programme (CERP) and the Department of State's US Agency for International Development (USAID). Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) also work in partnership with Government funding agencies to maximise the effect that can be delivered with available funds. Civil - military cooperation is evident here in Bamyan from both internal and external viewpoints.

The NZPRT's Development Group comprises half civilian and half military personnel and contracted staff working within the PRT too. Beyond the perimeter wire local government officials and staff, contractors and NGOs all work in an informal partnership that requires cooperation, tact, patience and plenty of good will to achieve progress for the people of Bamyan.

I have been more involved in field work than I might have been with previous CRIB rotations, dealing with community leaders in an effort to complete projects initiated by my predecessors. This has been a rewarding part of the job as I have travelled widely and met interesting people. It's quite sobering to be introduced to "Commander so and so" who you know to have been a field commander and supporter of the Mujahideen and/or Taliban, but who is now generally supportive of the Afghanistan Government, and is working with the PRT to help their villages.

One of my lasting impressions will be of Commander Nabi (pictured), a tall, engaging man with a friendly look and hearty laugh who arrived for a meeting on a 125cc motorcycle, typical transport of individuals and families alike (the most people I've seen on one small motorbike is four). We had a good meeting where I appreciated his candour and sense of humour. When we finished our meeting I asked for a photo to which he agreed, and when I took my hat off to avoid shading my eyes he laughed and had no hesitation in whipping his turban off to match me, a most unusual act which amused the bystanders, who always gather at open air meetings.

I've been mindful of the difficult changes going on in the wider NZDF back home, but having to focus on Afghanistan means I'm shielded from the effects for the time being. For now this opportunity to work with fascinating people in an intriguing part of the world keeps me fully occupied.

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