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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Afghan police chief earns Soldier’s respect

2 Jul 07
By Sgt. Jim Wilt

QARABAGH, Afghanistan - It is often said respect is earned not given. In the Army, it is one of the seven Army Values. Respect between fellow Soldiers is a critical part of military operations.

For one Soldier in Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Brigade, Kentucky National Guard, the respect he has for his Afghan National Police counterpart has blossomed into near brotherhood.

"We’re just like brothers," said Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Linneman, a squad leader in Bty. A, 2nd Bn., 138th FAB. "The only difference between us is the language."

Linneman, who arrived in Afghanistan in March, quickly became friends with the Qarabagh District Police Chief, Col. Abdul Shokor. The friendship is built on mutual respect. Respect between the two and respect between the men who follow them. Both Linneman, a Florence, Ky. native, and Shokor, a resident of Kabul, have more than their respect in common.

"They’re like two peas in a pod," said Army Sgt. Paul Wilkerson, a forward observer in Bat. A. Both men are leaders, both are 51 years old and both fight against the Taliban. "Taliban sabat," is a common phrase heard between the two. The phrase means "Taliban tomorrow."

["The ANP] get disappointed if we don’t find them," Linneman said. The troopers of Bat. A work hand in hand with the ANP, Linneman said. "I love taking them out on patrol with us," he said. Linneman said he believes in working beside them, not in front of or behind them.

"[Shokor] is pretty gutsy," Wilkerson said. "He gets out with us and dismounts with us." Who is in charge of the men is a non-issue between them, Linneman said. They both are. "What ever chief says goes. What ever I say goes," he said.

Linneman has good reason to share the decision making process. He understands there are aspects of Afghanistan that he can never grasp as well as Shokor. "This is [Shokor’s] backyard," Linneman said.

Linneman’s respect for Shokor is partially based on Shokor’s war fighting experience which is reflected in the five scars on his body from bullets and shrapnel. Shokor said when he was younger he woke up one day to tanks in his town. Shortly after, he started fighting the Soviet Union in Khandahar province as a mujahedeen in a war that would leave the Russians defeated and the country of Afghanistan fractured.

Shokor said he began to fight because he didn’t believe in the ideas the Russians had for the country. After the defeat of the Russians, Shokor soon found himself fighting the Taliban. Today, he is still fighting the Taliban but now at the side of U.S.-led coalition forces.

"It is our country, we should work for the country," the police chief said. "As a police chief, it is my job to provide security for civilians." Shokor’s need to help the people of his district and his men is evident to the Soldiers who work under him. "He seems like a pretty respectable guy. He takes care of his men," Wilkerson said. "He does what he can to help the people in his district," he added.

Shokor spends most of his time at the district center. He said he sees his wife and eight children for only two days every two to three weeks, the rest of the time he is here.

The respect Linneman and his men show Shokor is mirrored in the respect the squad leader receives from the "chief" and his men. When the Afghan policemen are looking for Linneman, they want to know where the "commandant" or "grandfather" is. "Grandfather" isn’t a shot at the skinny, grey-haired staff sergeant’s age. It is a term of respect. It means Linneman is a good man.

The Soldiers and policemen the two lead have also formed their own bonds between themselves. Despite a language barrier, jokes and friendship pass between the men. In the evenings, food is exchanged between the two groups and a friendly game of volleyball is played.

While the two leaders may consider themselves brothers, the two groups of men, one from Kentucky, the other from various parts of Afghanistan, form one big family.

Photo - Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Linneman, a squad leader in Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Regiment, Kentucky National Guard, talks with Qarabagh District Police Chief, Col. Abdul Shokor during a joint U.S. and Afghan formation at the Qarabagh District Center in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Jim Wilt.

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