In 2006, U.S. Marine Cpl. Lydia Davey, a community relations chief at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan as an individual augment to Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan. The unit was coordinating the efforts of the International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. diplomatic mission there.
In December, she arrived at Camp Eggers in Kabul, and for the next two months, served as a driver and personal security detail. When the command was deactivated in January 2007, Davey was assigned to Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan as a combat correspondent, and served the remainder of her six-month tour in that capacity.
Through it all, Davey says she gained an abiding affection for the Afghan people and a deep respect for their grit, resilience, and courage. This is her story.
December 2006. I snapped this selfie at Bagram Airfield after completing the coldest convoy of my life. Not even my thick buffalo fleece jacket could keep me warm in that turret as our Humvees jolted across the icy Shomali Plain on a resupply mission. Our team refueled, grabbed chow and supplies, then headed back into the gray slush and freezing wind. Miserable but memorable.
January 2007. On this mission, I was part of a two-person security team accompanying Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry’s political advisor to the western province of Herat. There, he met with international political leaders at consulates throughout the city. One day, local officials took us to the Great Mosque of Herat, where I snapped this picture. The mosque’s foundations were laid in 1200 AD and the building has been renovated often in the wake of various invasions throughout the centuries.
Last year, I traveled across the United States by train as part of the Millennial Trains Project. During the 10-day journey, I got to know a Fulbright student from Afghanistan named Mohammad Behroozian and discovered that he had often been to that mosque and his cousin had painted many of the tiles there. It was a strangely serendipitous moment. We marveled at the odds of an American Marine and Afghan scholar meeting on a passenger train in Los Angeles after having walked the grounds of the same remote mosque halfway around the world nearly a decade before.
March 2007. I took this photo during a foot patrol with coalition and Afghan security forces in the eastern province of Laghman. We had spent the day setting up security checkpoints in Mehtar Lam, the capital city located just beyond our forward operating base. Several months before, a joint operation had effectively destroyed a significant insurgency cell operating in the area. Our continuing patrols helped maintain open lines of communication with local informants and signaled our commitment to security in the area.
March 2007. While on patrol outside FOB Mehtar Lam, we passed two women in burqas, one of whom clutched a small bundle. Although I couldn’t see their faces, I smiled at them as we passed. To my surprise, the woman in front eased the little bundle away from her body and pulled back the blanket to show me this sleeping baby. It was a profoundly human moment, and I felt lucky to have been trusted with it.
March 2007. During my second trip to Herat, I met one of only 27 women police officers in Afghanistan. I reached out to shake her hand, and she gave me a hug instead. At a time when police officers in Herat were routinely being assassinated and where women were just beginning to step into the types of professional roles they had known pre-Taliban, her commitment to service was inspiring.
Only 7% of the Marine Corps is female, so I had an instinctive understanding of some of the challenges she likely faced. While unexpected, that embrace was a wonderful moment of solidarity between two women who chose the road less traveled by.
April 2007. This is one of my favorite images from my deployment. I took it in Herat province, just a few miles from Afghanistan’s border with Iran. Each time I see this picture, the juxtaposition of power and vulnerability reminds me of the responsibility our nation bears when it goes to war.
Critiques of our most recent conflicts are many, and often justified, but I’m aware that since our involvement in Afghanistan, more than 6 million children have been able to go to school. A third of those children are girls, and since 2001 the literacy rate among girls has risen from 3% to 36%. The Taliban truly are the enemies of progress and inquiry, and I’m proud to have played a role in frustrating their efforts to dim the light of learning. Still, I’m keenly aware that military intervention, even at its best, is an act of limited and imperfect justice.
May 2007. On May 6, 2007, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Wilberto Sabalu Jr. and Col. James Harrison were killed during an ambush at Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. Two other soldiers were wounded in the shooting. I was out on patrol when another Marine called my Afghan flip phone to tell me the news. Those four casualties were the first, but not the last, from my unit during that deployment. The next day I was selected for the rifle detail at their memorial ceremony.
I joined the Marine Corps and volunteered to deploy for largely selfish reasons. I was patriotic, but mostly wanted to see what I was made of and discover who I could become. The day we lost Sabalu and Harrison was the day I began to think about this conflict outside the context of my own selfish hunger for the challenge it represented. I began to explore how I could become an advocate for more thoughtful and deliberate military engagement, and have dedicated myself to understanding history, foreign policy, and the ethics of conflict.
April 2007. On this day, I was providing news coverage of a meeting between a recruiting advisor team and tribal elders and religious leaders in the northeastern province of Panjshir. The purpose of the meeting was to motivate these leaders to send their young men to the Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police. Some of the elders were openly hostile while others seemed contemplative.
After the meeting, we shared a midday meal of flatbread, rice, yogurt, and orange soda. This trip in particular was memorable for me because of the mountain province’s clean streets, irrigated terraces, and bustling markets. The broad expanses of carefully-tended valley fields reminded me of the summers I’d spent at my grandparents’ farm back home in Indiana.