Good news about the Pir Mohammed School operation–the subject of my Time Magazine cover story this week–from the front in Zhari district, courtesy of our distinguished guest blogger, Captain Jeremiah Ellis:
Joe and Adam [Ferguson, our photographer],
Sorry, I haven’t had time to write, for the last 72hrs I have been at the Pir Mohammad School leading our operations. Let me tell you, it is awesome! We have only been there a short while and we are already seeing a significant change in the local population. For the first time, the people have seen the U.S. Army follow through on a significant project.
Huge groups of onlookers turn out to see what is going on. Their initial questions are, “Are you building a new coalition strongpoint?”, “Are you preparing to clear the town, one house at a time?”. I tell them that we are here to clean the school, paint it, repair the windows and doors and place books, teachers, chalkboards and pencils into the rooms… they are ecstatic. They can clearly see that it is not just rhetoric, they can see our actions.
The Taliban is having a huge reaction to our presence in ‘their’ neck of the woods. Intelligence channels are ringing alarms as the TB plan an attack on our positions; this is way too important for them to ignore. I pray that when they do, that it goes our way and we get to humiliate them and can keep the public safe, while at the same time, giving them a hell of a walloping.
This operation is going to have a tremendous, tide-turning effect on the city of Senjaray and in the region of Kandahar. It is very exciting for both me and my Soldiers that we have the opportunity to be part of it, however minor, prior to our redeployment. Soldiers that have been walking on patrols in a apathetic daze are now filling sandbags, removing trash and fortifying positions with a zeal and enthusiasm that they have not shown in the entire deployment. The school mission is a tangible, unifying idea that has re-energized and encouraged everyone!
My plan is to focus our energy and resources to remodeling a ‘wing’ of the school over the course of the next 30-days. We can then make this the shining example of what is to come for the entire school. We can then bring curious locals, elders and mullahs on a tour of the school and co-opt their support.
I am convinced that none of this would have happened when it did, without the support and attention that both of you gave to the mission. After trying to push for the opening of the school for so long and meeting obstacle after obstacle along the way, it was tremendously satisfying to see the dam give way and the operation kick off. I wish everyone that helped get us there could have been standing in the courtyard of the school when we walked in for the first time; it was one hell of a feeling. (you would be surprised to note that there is a plaque on the school that identifies that it was the “United States Army” that built the school in November, 2002… makes you wonder what happened in the last eight years)
Everyone I know is excited to see where this project goes and to see how the town will change as a result. Soldiers, civilians, everyone involved wants to see where the project is at six months to a year down the road. I will be taking pictures of everything as it currently stands and then some pictures before we redeploy… I want to keep getting updates from 2-502IN when they replace us and I will make sure to forward you guys the updates and the photographs.
Thanks again for all of your help and support! I look forward to giving you more good news. (Joe, I included the photos that Adam took for us, they turned out great!)
JEREMIAH R. ELLIS
Dog Company, TF 1-12 IN
COP SENJARAY, Zhari District, Afghanistan
The tough work is just beginning for Dog Company, holding the school 24/7 against what are sure to be a series of Taliban attacks. To succeed in this operation, Captain Ellis and his soldiers are going to need far more support from the local Afghan government, especially the police, than they have so far. But congratulations, and best of luck to them–and please be safe during this last, dangerous month of your deployment.