I Learned The Value Of An Education In Afghanistan

Education
Students take notes at school in Nejrab district, Kapisa province, Afghanistan March 28. The school educates over 200 children every day in reading, writing, mathematics, art and other classes.
Photo by Sgt. Kyle Wagoner

The Afghan man looked at the paper with a blank look on his face.


“Does he know what that says?” I asked my interpreter.

“No, he cannot read,” he said. “Very few people here can read or even write.”

“You explained it and he understands it though, right?” I said.

“Yes, he said he trusts us,” the interpreter responded.

During my deployment to Afghanistan, the company I was attached to was looking to implement a small project. There were several local contractors in the area and they were all jockeying to do this job and get paid. I thought it would be a good idea to have a contract with the contractor, so I composed a simple one that said how much he would be paid, when he would be paid, and when we expected the work to be done. It could have said anything in the world other than what the project was about, because as I found out, he couldn’t read.

Related: Everything I really need to know I learned from Afghan security forces »

In America, I would never sign something if I didn’t know what it said. I’m as guilty as the next person for not pouring over every last word on a contract or the terms of use in an app that I download, but I’ll at least skim it over and if anything sticks out I’ll ask a question and clarify it.

In Afghanistan, a lot of people don’t have that ability. According to the CIA World Factbook, only 28% of the adult population is literate. Last spring, the BBC reported that in 2001 only 21% of children in the country were enrolled in school; this did not include girls, who were not allowed to attend school. Since then, much progress has been made for sure, but it doesn’t mean the problem of thousands, if not millions of children, without a formal education has gone away. Decades of fighting and unrest in Afghanistan have resulted in systemic governance problems for the country, but the untold number of people without a basic education will cause headaches for years if not decades to come in that country.

I went to a good school from first grade all the way through high school that my parents paid good money for me to go to. I graduated toward the bottom of the class and not because my classmates were smarter than me — although looking back, there were some very bright people in my class — or because I had a learning disability. I simply had a poor attitude about school. I thought it was wildly unnecessary learning about stuff I didn’t see the importance in. I thought school was the ultimate “check in the box.”  I was a punk for having this attitude and I regret it.

Over 10 years later, I am in college working on my bachelor’s degree. It’s good that I came to college later than my peers. I wasn’t ready after high school and I certainly didn’t have the right attitude. I wouldn’t change the experiences I’ve had either, but if I had gone straight into college out of high school — and hadn’t flunked out somehow — my life would have been much different I’m sure.

It was in Afghanistan that I saw what an education can do for people. Being able to read and write — the most basic of education principles — is something I vastly took for granted. With my simple — by Western standards — education, I am head and shoulders above people trying to get ahead in countries like Afghanistan. There are a whole list of reasons why I am better off than a person living in Afghanistan, but having an education is one of the main advantages that I have.

In this June 16, 2018 photo, Taliban fighters greet residents in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Associated Press/Rahmat Gul)

While the U.S. military wants to keep roughly 8,600 troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's deputy leader has just made clear that his group wants all U.S. service members to leave the country as part of any peace agreement.

"The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand," Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in a story for the New York Times on Thursday.

Read More
U.S. soldiers inspect the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq January 13, 2020. (REUTERS/John Davison)

In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.

Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.

Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"

The next day was different.

"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."

Read More
A U.S. military vehicle runs a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria near the Turkish border town of Qamishli (Video screencap)

A video has emerged showing a U.S. military vehicle running a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria after it tried to pass an American convoy.

Questions still remain about the incident, to include when it occurred, though it appears to have taken place on a stretch of road near the Turkish border town of Qamishli, according to The War Zone.

Read More
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.

Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.

Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.

Read More
A cup of coffee during "tea time" discussions between the U.S. Air Force and Japanese Self-Defense Forces at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 14, 2018 (Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)

Survival expert and former Special Air Service commando Edward "Bear" Grylls made meme history for drinking his own urine to survive his TV show, Man vs. Wild. But the United States Air Force did Bear one better recently, when an Alaska-based airman peed in an office coffee maker.

While the circumstances of the bladder-based brew remain a mystery, the incident was written up in a newsletter written by the legal office of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on February 13, a base spokesman confirmed to Task & Purpose.

Read More