For the most part, being deployed isn’t fun. You’re away from most things good in life – family, friends, good food, the freedom to enjoy your hobbies at your leisure, wearing civilian clothes, comfortable beds, hot showers … the list is endless.
But all of that is usually offset by the knowledge, the hope, that what you’re doing in your deployed location is making life better for someone else, that you’re providing an opportunity, a chance for a safer and happier life for someone that may not have had that chance. For whatever reasons any of us join the military, there is a part of us, however small, that joined to serve our country and make the world a better place.
Being in public affairs lets me talk to a lot of different people, from all different career fields, backgrounds, walks of live etc., so I hear a lot of viewpoints, but one common theme I’ve come across while deployed is, well, I guess the best way to describe it, is frustration. After a certain amount of time, deployed life starts to wear on people. Some sooner than others, but eventually I think it gets to all of us. We become short-tempered, complaints are voiced more frequently, and we start to question what we’re doing here.
Yesterday, while doing an interview for a police anti-corruption story, I talked with an air force captain who, if he felt any of that negativity, definitely didn’t let it show. He was at the tail end of his deployment, and one of the best interviews I had in a long time; articulate, well-spoken, knowledgeable and full of details. He was definitely what we in the public affairs world would call a subject matter expert. But not only that, he was passionate about his topic – he came prepared with a binder full of notes, facts, figures and detailed information and spoke at great length about the pay by cell phone program, a new anti-corruption measure being implemented through the joint efforts of the Ministry of Finance, and the finance reform office at NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
The program allows Afghan National Police serving in remote or dangerous areas to receive their pay electronically, through their cell phone. It’s a creative and unique way for them to get paid, reduce corruption and help build the Afghanistan banking infrastructure. Currently, only about 3 percent of the population use banks in some sort of capacity. For police in remote areas to get paid, they send a representative to the provincial headquarters, who picks up the pay – in cash – for his unit and brings it back to them. Yeah … you can see where this is going. But the new pay by phone program has been successful in its test districts, so much so it’s being expanded to three more this month.
While the story itself is really interesting, as I talked with the captain, he said something that really struck me. He had worked very hard during his six months here, to create a payroll system that could be run by Afghans and in fact is run by Afghans. Essentially, as he put it, he worked himself out of a job. If we could all be as successful in our efforts in our mission, we’ll not only have our eye on the prize, but firmly in our grasp.