ONE TRIBE AT A TIME

One Tribe At A Time

An Exchange Between Soldiers

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 2, 2009

Maj. Gant,

First I want to say Thank you, Thank you and Thank you! I just finished your “One Tribe At A Time” strategy paper and I am speechless!! You have captured and eloquently explained everything we, those of us who were in Afghanistan in the early days, have been beating our heads against the wall about since late 2004, when it all began to spiral downward.

"Me, the Mayor of Zormat and tribal elders after they had presented me with my turban.  I'm second from the left, wearing the turban."

"Me, the Mayor of Zormat and tribal elders after they had presented me with my turban. I'm second from the left, wearing the turban."

This e-mail comes from an Airborne veteran who prefers to remain anonymous for the purposes of this blog, though she did give permission to publish her photos.

I served in Afghanistan from June 03-March 04 as a member of a 4-person team headquartered out of Gardez. Our Area of Responsibility covered both Paktia and Khowst provinces and we provided direct support to your counterparts located in Gardez.

Like yourselves, we implemented the same TTPs [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] you discussed in your paper with great success. Despite the fact that I am female, utilizing the tenets you highlight, my team and I earned the respect and support of the local tribes. Which as you know resulted in successes far beyond what most can imagine. The improvements in Paktia and Khowst were indescribable, but quickly faded as “big army” moved in shortly after our exit in 2004. It is heartbreaking to me to hear the news today of how the situation has deteriorated.

"Because of relationships fostered with both tribes in Gardez and Khowst, we enabled the local tribes to secure the Gardez/Khowst Pass."

"Because of relationships fostered with both tribes in Gardez and Khowst, we enabled the local tribes to secure the Gardez/Khowst Pass."

It’s impossible for me to read this e-mail (this is Pressfield speaking now) without thinking of Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai, whose multi-part interview we’re running on this blog every Friday. Chief Zazai’s home district lies in this same Paktia province and he right now (I have an e-mail from him on this subject three days ago) is pleading for U.S. engagement with and support for his own fledgling tribal police force. But back to our paratrooper’s e-mail to Maj. Gant:

Like you, the bonds I formed with the local tribes will forever be near and dear to me. My most poignant moment in Afghanistan was as I was transitioning out with the incoming team. During my last meeting with the Zormat mayor and tribal elders, the elders presented me, an American female soldier, a turban. That turban means more to me than any award I have or could ever be presented and is a perfect example of what is possible when your strategy is implemented. I will be sure to disseminate your paper to anyone and everyone I know.

Again, thank you for being our voice. And know that at a moment’s notice I too would gladly get on a helicopter, armed with an AK-47 and 300 rounds and again prove your strategy true. So if you ever need some kick-ass support, feel free to drop me a line.

Thank you again!!

A fellow paratrooper and Afghanistan comrade …

"Dressed in our new local duds, we were invited to eat at every house in the village for the Eid holiday.  We started at 0800 and finished at 1900.  What a day!  We had to roll ourselves home."

"Dressed in our new local duds, we were invited to eat at every house in the village for the Eid holiday. We started at 0800 and finished at 1900. What a day! We had to roll ourselves home."

Here’s part of Maj. Gant’s reply:

First, please call me Jim.  You have earned the right.  We have lived the same experiences; we have seen firsthand the noble and loyal people that live in Afghanistan.  Me?  What about you?  Thank you so much for sharing a very small portion of your experiences with me.

You see, my wife just retired with 20 years of service in the Army (she is twice the officer I am) and I have discussed with her many times how the Afghans deal with their women.  They will kill over their women.  I witnessed firsthand the kindness, the caring and how wonderful the Afghan women were.  Are there abuses?  Yes.  Just as we have in the U.S.  The two Afghan women that I knew were very happy.  And please explain to me how they accepted you … if you were [supposedly] a “devil” and hated by Afghan men.   I bet I know.  I bet you established a relationship with them.  The relationship was built on trust, honesty and loyalty.  You have self-awareness, empathy, sincerity, knowledge, intelligence and persistence.  Am I right?  I bet you miss the people there.  I bet you would go back in a second.  I bet if you could get linked up with some of the [Afghan] people you were with in 03-04 that you would have instant credibility and rapport. Sound familiar?

And yes, you could be on my TET [Tribal Engagement Team.]

Thank YOU.  I stand at attention and salute YOU.

Posted in Afghanistan, Agora, One Tribe At A Time

18 Responses to “An Exchange Between Soldiers”

  1. November 2, 2009 at 5:19 am

    I am not exactly sure where this comment belongs on this blog, but I found this exchange between warriors so intensely personal that I wanted to post this. Mr. Pressfield reminds us in his classic “Gates of Fires” that love is the absence of fear. His book also reminded me as a retired Air Force fighter pilot that arugably the strongest bond between human beings is the bond formed between brothers-in-arms. This exchange between the Airborne veteran and Maj Gant bears testimony to that thought.

    From Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire, 1998

    “Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from them; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war, but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.”

  2. S.Tabriz
    November 2, 2009 at 10:25 am

    That seems to settle the “gender question.” It’s about rapport, personality, and respect.

  3. November 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Excellent reading.
    As someone who ran his mouth on the gender question, in doubt of women in the environment, I’m truly glad to read this. Its heartening, and I think goes even further to prove the validity of the concepts here.

    Thanks to you both for your service and continued efforts.

  4. Dave
    November 4, 2009 at 11:41 am

    cricket…cricket…cricket…..the Tribe has spoken and nobody cares! Where all the femi-nazis from two weeks ago? Here she is…Miss Anonymous Female American Hero! Good for her, she built rapport and got her picture taken with some afghans. But she can’t fight or pull a 160 pound man to safety or do ANY of the things SF does. What we have here is yet ANOTHER support soldier who does one thing…5 years ago…and now thinks she could be on a TET with an AK-47 and 300 rounds. If you want to be SF go to the Q-Course…oh wait, you can’t…. the only reason I’d let a female near my TET would be to bang-chuck-a-bang-bang after a long day of fighting and killing alongside my Tribe, just like we do now with the female SF groupies on our FOBs and CJSOTFs. I’m going to assume Jim was just trying to make her feel good about herself by saying he’d take her on his TET. It’s never going to happen.

    • Steven Pressfield
      November 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm

      Dave, when you post a comment like this in a public forum, it doesn’t hurt our female paratrooper at all, but it makes you look like a macho-posturing, testosterone-addled idiot. How do you know what your fellow soldier can do–or did do? She could have been someone who dragged you out of a burning humvee or saved your life in any number of ways. You don’t know her. The only thing you know is that she wore the same uniform you do. She served. She did her job–and is still doing it. She’s only anonymous on the blog for that reason. For your sake, I hope you regret what you wrote. And as for your crack about “after a long day of fighting,” my question to you is, What would you do to someone who said that about your sister or your mother or your wife? What would you think of him? That’s what every person who reads your comment thinks about you.

      You owe your fellow soldier an apology.

      Steven Pressfield

    • November 4, 2009 at 4:47 pm

      Dave,

      The next time you decide to open your electronic mouth and insert foot feel free to do so at someone’s expense who didn’t operate with the Tribe and serve with great distinction on the precursor to the TET – the THT with myself. We lived the MI Creed – Always Out Front as we successfully completed more than 400 combat missions with co-located SFOD-A and SFOD-B teams during our 10 months in Afghanistan June 2003 – March 2004. In point of fact, sir, were the combat action badge awarded per firefight/engagement in accordance with existing ROE there wouldn’t be enough stars to count. By the way, I am both a PH & CAB Recipient 26 Sep 2003 and so is (anonymous is as well from an ambush that became a firefight, so there is always more you just don’t know), if you have any additional questions feel free to contact me offline. Bottom line, true leaders (Officers or NCOs) never belittle or berate soldiers, if you’re still in Dave go seek your mentor’s guidance and appropriate retraining for you have lost your way. Check Six, Kilo Whiskey….

    • Jim Gant
      November 4, 2009 at 4:50 pm

      Dave,

      I do not know you. I do not know what you do, or what you stand for, or your agenda, or the reasoning behind what you said. For all I know you are a great SF soldier who has fought bravely in combat for his team. Several awards for valor, etc…And we all have a right to our opinion.

      With that being said, I have re-read the posting concerning the female soldier’s experience in Afghanistan. I did not – one time – see her say, imply or otherwise – that she was SF, could be SF, or wanted to be SF. As a matter of fact, what I read was,”we provided direct support to your counter-parts…” She makes it very clear that she supported SF, and is proud of that. As she should be. I wonder if her trip to and from the area she was working in was any less safe than the trip the ODA had to make in that same area? I wonder if those pressure plate mines could tell the difference between her and me? I wonder if it was any safer for her to do her job, than for any of the countless number of support soldiers that we in SF need to accomplish our mission? Male or female? Black or white? Tab or no tab? As a matter of record, the second IED we hit in the Konar took the leg of one of my teammates, a civil affairs NCO. The issue here isn’t whether she could be “SF”. Current Army regulations prohibit that anyway. The issue here is – would I (with my limited experience) take her on my TET – yes. The skills, knowledge and attributes needed to be on a TET and on an SF ODA are two seperate things. Would I ask her to get off a helicopter in the middle of the night in Pakistan with a 120 lb ruck to link-up with a tribal chief to fight the Taliban? No. Once again, that isn’t the question. I WOULD WANT ANY SOLDIER, REGARDLESS OF RANK, BRANCH OF SERVICE OR GENDER TO BE ON MY TET. IF THEY HAD SKILLS NEEDED FOR US TO BE SUCCESSFUL. ESPECIALLY IF THEY HAD A GOOD PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TRIBAL MEMBERS IN THE AREA. YOU CAN’T TRAIN A PRIOR RELATIONSHIP AND YOU CAN’T LEARN TO DO IT AT A RANGE OR DURING A 12 MILE ROADMARCH WITH A 75 LB RUCK.

      This is an example of the whole “paradigm shift” that has to take place in order for us to be successful in Afghanistan.

      I, as a general rule think that the curent standards to enter SF are good. However, once again – that is NOT what I am proposing. I have grown up my entire career in SF (minus my four years as a Lt in the Infantry) as an enlisted guy in the 5th SFG(A) and in 3rd Group as a team leader…I got it. SF is a tough place to be. If it was easy – the tab wouldn’t say “Special”…I got it. But to imply that the only reason I would have a female around is to entertain myself, is ludicrous, stupid, immature, asinine, and makes you look like a moron. I hope you are NOT an SF guy, because you need to go look in the mirror and ask yourself if this is the image we want to portray to the public…

      The other important part of this you missed is: I thought Afghan men hated women? What is the deal with that? Hmmmm. I didn’t see it Mangwel. I saw first hand, face to face, with no veil, inside the “inner” compound of two tribal leaders, their wives…They were happy, kind, and were held in respect by their husbands.

      What about the US? Donna Shalala of the DHHS has called domestic abuse of women,”an unacknowlede epidemic in America”. It is estimated that 2.5 million females a year in the US experience some kind of physical abuse by men…..Hmmmm.

      Do they treat their woman as “good”? Do they treat them “different”? Do they treat them “right”? Please define…let’s ask the 2.5 million women in the States how they feel about American men?

      I was an NCO in SF, I was a team leader in SF, I love being SF, it has defined who I am as a person…your comments are not indicitive of what some of the great SF warriors I have fought side by side with would say or think.

      I stand by my statement…This soldier COULD be on my TET. PERIOD.

      And to the female soldier who put herself “out there” for the world to see. I stand and salute YOU. AGAIN.

      And lastly, on a personal note, with soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan, at a time when the war hangs in the balance, at a time of debate in our country of what to do…your concern is this?

      Let’s focus on the issue…Will a tribal engagement strategy (TES) work? I for one would like to support General McChrystal in the daunting and incredably complex task of fighting a war in Afghanistan. Your post did NOTHING to help that.

      STRENGTH AND HONOR

      Jim Gant

    • Thorny
      November 5, 2009 at 4:09 am

      Dave,
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but your lack of situational awareness is astounding. ‘Anonymous’ is held in extremely high regard by a significant number of people in places and organizations that would surprise you. As you are no doubt aware, your reputation will follow you wherever you go. ‘Anonymous’ has a reputation as a true warrior and a teammate who can be counted on. I have personally had the honor and privilege of serving with her in two theaters. You are in the process of tearing down your own reputation with your ill-chosen words. To make such comments without having any knowledge of the person you are talking about immediately calls your own judgment into question. To those who have served with her, ‘Anonymous’ has more than proven her worth.

    • Guy
      November 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

      Dave,

      We in Special Forces understand our operational environment and always endeavor to personify the “Quiet Professional.” You have either forgotten this or, more likely, are not SF. Your remarks were misogynistic, naïve, and are in no way indicative of the men I have known in SF (for 30 years now). You owe the anonymous soldier an apology.

      MAJ Gant, my compliments on your paper. I will make it required reading for our SF warrant officers students. Well done.

      De Oppresso Libre

      Guy Griffaw, USAJFKSWCS

      • Jim Gant
        November 5, 2009 at 1:44 pm

        Sir,

        STRENGTH AND HONOR

        Jim Gant

        • Stephen H. Franke
          November 6, 2009 at 11:05 am

          For Major Gant,

          Greetings. Good book.

          Since you’re apparently in pre-deployment prep before you go wheels up to advisory duty in Iraq, you might register with the site (URL below) to download and do some self-training with the free (***only*** to persons with a “.mil” e-mail account) program called “Tactical Iraqi” [aka TI] Arabic language and culture training system.

          URL is:

          TI is loaded with useful scenario, cultural info [albeit only about Iraqi Arabs, minus Iraq’s Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrian/Chaldean Christians et al] , operational advice, and vocabulary related to “advise & assist” tasks (and lesser so) “train & equip matters and do/don’t do in meeting and dealing with Arabic-speaking Iraqis. TI is a techie-enhanced interactive video game in the category of “serious games” used for training and education.

          Hope this helps.

          Regards,

          Stephen H. Franke
          San Pedro, California

          • Jim Gant
            November 6, 2009 at 5:10 pm

            Stephen,

            Thank you very much for your post!

            I will definately check this out…

            I appreciate your time!

            STRENGTH AND HONOR

            Jim

  5. SF Groupie
    November 4, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Dave,

    I don’t even know where to start. I think a psychiatrist would say you have serious mommy issues. You not only attacked her but you also went after all females. Femi-nazis? SF groupies? My perception is that you aren’t SF at all because you obviously lack ALL the qualities found in Special Forces soldiers. You need to go back and read what she wrote. Nowhere in there does she say she wants to be SF or thinks she can be SF. Additionally, you completely missed the point of the article. Perhaps you’re upset because she has proven she can go into a village and build rapport. Did you not see the pictures? Where are your pictures? Where is your story? You don’t have one. Her story completely does away with the notion that Afghan men treat women poorly or dislike Americans. Hers is an amazing story and somehow you’re pissed off about it. All I can say is that I hope she is laughing at your pathetic existence like I am. Your comments are plebian, angry and without merit. It’s no wonder you hate women….they hate you.

  6. Keith
    November 5, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Dave:

    Your comments are a clear indication that breeding and class passed you by. To imply that there is no place for women in this ongoing battle is a confirmation that you either suffer from severe cognative imparement or simply choose to remain ignorant. As a member of the SF community, I fully support the addition of women to portions of our mission (TET’s). They bring a unique skillset and ability to the party that continues to reap rewards. While agree that there should be no expectation that women will be actively engaged in select direct action activities, there is a place for them as interpreters, collectors and general rapport building activities.

    Hats off to Major Gant for his fine work. As for you, Dave, perhaps you should crawl back under the rock from where you came from.

  7. November 6, 2009 at 1:01 am

    It’s very beautiful to see the tribes getting along with the soldiers. Those are some nice pictures that have been taken.

  8. November 6, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Jim,
    I served with Anonymous for a year and I know she is a quality officer who can pull a 220 pound man to safety. Gender asside, my reading of One Tribe at a Time is that brains are far more important than brawn. You mentioned in your article support from higher echelons for TET ops, to include support from Civil Affairs. How can Civil Affairs best enable your strategy? Also, I would like to hear about your experiences with non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan. I note from recent polling that Afghans placed more confidence in their own government, ANA, and ANP than in international NGOs, but it seems that much of our interagency, CA, and NATO CIMIC doctrine stressess the importance of NGOs to stability in Afghanistan. What have you seen?

  9. Anonymous's Mother
    November 19, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you to all who stood up for Anonymous. I have met some of you at departures and homecomings. I send you boxes wherever you travel. Dave, you remind us that all of those in our military have defended our right to freedom of speech. Even though I vehemently disagree with you, I taught Anynomous and her sibling that we don’t always need to agree with everyone, but we should always strive to accept everyone. Your judgment of her and her accomplishments is not based on facts. You do seem to have some hidden anti-female agendas. I don’t know your circumstances, but I feel sorry for anyone with that much anger in their heart. I pray for all of you daily. Sincerely, Anonymous’s Mother