Interview with Capt. Traversa
He is currently stationed somewhere in Afghanistan. This interview was arranged for me
through SGT Eric Jensen at CENTCOM. I would like to thank him very kindly not only for this interview, but for all the work he and the others do behind scenes that never receive any recognition. Let us begin.
Rosemary: Thank you for agreeing to this interview Capt. Traversa. I pray everything is going well. Speaking of going well, what are the temperatures there? What is the difference in the temperature between summer and winter?
Capt. Traversa: The summers here in Kabul are nowhere near as hot as in the south, or in Iraq. Highs are usually in the upper nineties, but we rarely hit triple digits. The winter has been exceptionally cold, and we’ve had snow cover since Christmas. The last few weeks it has rarely gotten above 32 degrees, and many nights have been in single digits.
R: Which do you prefer?
CT: I prefer winter by far. I love cold weather and even the bitter cold here is preferable to summer, which just sucks the life out of me.
R: Tell us a little about your family and the effect this is having on them.
CT: My wife of 22 years, Jancy, is my best friend, and we miss each other very much. However, she is holding up well, but we are both ready for this to be over. My oldest son, Taylor, just graduated from college in December, and my daughter Elise will graduate in May. My youngest son Ryan just turned 16 and got his driver’s license. I think my absence is hardest on Ryan, since he’s still living at home. He played football for the first time, and I missed the entire season. My parents live near us, so they have been helping out a lot. They send an e-mail everyday, and are very supportive.
R: Is there anything you would like people to do to support the troops? Is there anything you would like? Books? Music? Etc?
CT: There is not anything I need. I have been buying anime (Japanese animation) DVDs for myself, and that’s about all I would anticipate purchasing for myself for the remainder of my time here. But I don’t need anyone sending me any, as I can buy them easily through the internet. The guys here always like to get new DVD releases, and we have a library of them that we share. That’s probably the single most desired item here.
R: Do you take advantage of the web and e-mail? If so, what is your weblog address?
CT: E-mail and the internet are incredibly valuable in making the deployment more bearable. I have a blog at Traversa.typepad.com called “Afghanistan Without a Clue.” I’ve had lots of fun blogging and have met many great people on line.
R: Have you learned anything in Afghanistan about yourself? What?
CT: Although I was very content with my life and I knew I was living a great life compared to most people in the world, being here has been pretty amazing. People here who are considered well-to-do live in tiny houses without bathrooms, sinks, or many other things we take for granted. It has helped me to put things in perspective, and I think when I get home I will be much less concerned about minor annoyances.
R: What do you miss the most, beside your family?
CT: No question that after my family, I miss my dogs. We have five, and I love them dearly. We aren’t allowed to have pets over here, and that hurts.
R: Now I would like to ask you to explain to the American people when and why you joined the Air Force. Are you satisfied with your job, or do you regret your decision?
CT: I was a teacher for four years, got tired of being poor, looked around, and decided the Air Force was a good option. My father was an Air Force officer, so I knew what I was getting into. I don’t regret joining at all. It’s been a great job, and right now it’s also been quite an adventure.
R: When are you ‘tentatively’ scheduled to come home?
CT: May or June 2007.
R: Do you understand that there are very many Americans who support you? Well, there are! Do you read the papers? Do you watch TV News? Where do you get your outside news?
CT: We have been getting wonderful support from all sorts of folks back home. We know many, many people care about us, and it means a lot to us. We get the Stars and Stripes newspaper for free over here, and get all the major news shows on TV. We also get news from the internet, and I never miss The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
R: If it is possible, could you share with us generally what you do?
CT: My fellow Airmen and I stationed at Camp Phoenix and Camp Eggers are called ETTs, derived from “Embedded Training Team,” which means we are embedded with the Afghan National Army (ANA). Our job is to “mentor” our ANA counterparts, in an effort to rebuild the ANA and make it self-sufficient. Unfortunately, there is no textbook, no regulation, no course we can attend, on how exactly we are supposed to do this. As you may imagine, this makes our jobs challenging, exciting, and frustrating, all mixed together with a large serving of the unknown.
Even though “mentoring” is poorly defined, we do have a plan of attack. I work with fourteen other Airmen at the Central Movement Agency (CMA), the only transportation unit for the ANA. Our job is to make sure CMA can run convoys throughout the country and maintain their vehicles properly. We oversee the maintenance shops, and train the ANA on proper maintenance procedures and record keeping. We also oversee convoy operations, and train drivers until we can get the ANA to start their own training. Finally, we have just started transporting cargo flown into the Kabul International Airport. Maj Apple (my boss) and I work with the Commander and his staff, trying to teach everything from the importance of wearing the uniform properly to trusting NCOs with more responsibilities. The most basic principles of our military are strange new concepts here.
The challenges are many and not quite what you might expect. First, we are Airmen lent to the US Army for a year, working with a foreign army. You can find many Air Force and Navy personnel taking on traditionally Army roles as we help to relieve the Army of some of its taskings. Fighting two wars simultaneously has stretched the Army too much, and we are helping to relieve some of the pressure. But that means we need to learn how the Army does things, and then try to teach the ANA the “Army Way” to operate.
R: What is your average day like? How many times a week are you bored, and how many times a week is it chaotic? What can you do when it is boring?
CT: My work day varies considerably. Much of my current schedule is driven by when we need to unload airplanes. We do have a fair share of chaos at the airport on occasion, but I have a good team, both American and Afghan, and we haven’t failed to accomplish any mission yet.
I am never bored. When I am not working, I am writing, playing sports, or watching anime. I usually spend about two hours with my blogging and writing each day, so I have little time to be bored.
R: Could you please give us an idea about all the good things that are being done to help the Afghanis?
CT: We are working hard to train the troops we work with to be self-sufficient. In the eight months we’ve been here, CMA has become a very active, very vital part of the Afghan military. We are building a very nice base for them, and trying hard to equip their troops properly. I don’t have much insight into what is being done for the civilian population.
R: How many people are you responsible for, and how many do you have to answer to?
CT: We have 15 Americans working at CMA and over 200 Afghans which we assist. I am the second highest ranking American. My boss is Maj Apple, a great guy to work for. He puts a lot of thought into how we can best motivate the Afghans to be the best unit possible.
R: Do you find yourself counseling anyone? Is this how bonds are created?
CT: I have not had to counsel anyone. We have an unusually excellent group of men at CMA. We have lots of time to talk as we travel, or sit waiting for planes to land, so we get to know each other pretty well that way. We also play sports together.
R: Are you free to do your job the way you were trained? Has political correctness crept in to hamper you? Do you ever feel as if your hands are tied behind your back?
CT: Anyone in the military has limits on their free speech. We are not allowed to criticize our leadership, so when I blog, I have to make sure I stay within regulations. Everyone has their ideas about how the wars are being run, but it’s not our place to comment in an open forum like this. As far as doing my job, I have been givin great freedom to do the job as I wish. I have no complaints there.
R: What is the best day you have had over there, and what is the worst day?
CT: The worst day was the night before the anniversary of 9/11. We were going to have to travel that day, and the night before I was sure we would get hit by a suicide bomber and I would die. I’ve only had one bad night like that.
It’s hard to say what my best day was. I really enjoy working out at the airport, and I’ve had some great days out there. Christmas Eve was also a great day, because the guys in my hut had a good time together celebrating. You can read about it in my blog.
R: If you had it to do all over again, would you?
CT: No, I’ve had a very happy, fulfilling life. I don’t have any significant regrets.
R: Will you think about re-enlisting? Is this a career move for you?
CT: I retire in two years, and staying in past that is not an option for me.
R: Are there many terrorist attacks? Are you allowed to gestimate about how many terrorists are in or around Afghanistan?
CT: I have no ideas on the numbers here. We usually have at least one attack a day somewhere in Afghanistan, but not too many here in Kabul. Last week a suicide bomber rammed the front gate of Camp Phoenix, where I lived. He was caught, but the bomb went off when they were trying to defuse it. That was pretty exciting!
R: Does the rhetoric in Washington encourage the terrorists? Do they hear what we talk about?
CT: Of course they hear what we are talking about, but I have no idea if it gives them encouragement. They are motivated by a religious hatred of non-Muslims, so I doubt anything we say really makes any difference.
R: Have you lost any of your men? If so, could you please share with us a little about their lives? Who they were, what they loved, what they hated, so that they are not just numbers for the evening news?
CT: Fortunately, now of our people have been harmed in any way.
R: Is there much corruption in the Karsai government?
CT: I have heard that corruption is very common over here, or so my interpreters tell me. But they do not want to go back to the Taliban government.
R: If you were POTUS, what would you do about Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Darfur, Sudan? Just a simple question to follow those other tough hitting ones. I know it’s above your pay-grade, but give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe someone will consider it!
CT: No Comment
R: I know there is a problem with the poppy. Is anyone focusing on this? Are they planting other things such as food, cotton, etc?
CT: I read about an effort to use the poppy crop for medicinal purposes in the US. They will not be spraying to kill the crops. I know little else about this topic.
R: Does Afghanistan have a stable government outside of Kabul? What do they need to accomplish a stable government to the whole country?
CT: I think it will require a whole new generation to grow up and take over before we see a really stable government. There are so many factions here; creating unity is going to be a slow process.
R: Is there a form of Sharia law being practiced?
CT: Not in the Kabul area, but in areas the Taliban control, I would think so. But I have no first hand knowledge.