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8,760 ways to make a difference

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Max Grindstaff
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing
That's how many hours are in one year -- 8,760. As my one year in NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan begins to wind down, I find myself wondering how much of an impact I had during this year? I think it's a typical question folks ask themselves.

"Did I make a difference; did I make my year count?"

Not all of us are here on one year tours, and it doesn't matter whether you are here on a six, nine or 12 month tour. It's perfectly normal to wonder if your assignment made an impact. Hopefully, this article reaches some of our NTM-A teammates early in their respective tours and offers them the same thinking points to enhance their contributions while they are here helping in Afghanistan.

I worked for the NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan, or as we're known in our AFCENT chain, the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, which is charged with advising the Afghan Air Force. So back to my initial question of "did I make a difference?" In my case, did I make a difference to our NATC-A members and to the Afghan air force command sergeant major I work with?

Has this year away from my friends and family really made a difference? Did I make it count? All of our families make monumental sacrifices to allow us to come here and do the mission and you need to know those sacrifices were worth it.

Improving QoL

This wasn't my first deployment or one year assignment away from home, so I knew Quality of Life for my people was important. My first and foremost goal was to ensure my advisors had the best QoL possible over here. I wanted them to have the best housing and morale-related support. The better they are taken care of, the better advisors they are ... happy advisors are good advisors. Why not maximize the impact of our training mission by taking care of our folks to the maximum extent? We focused on the basics: Good, clean and comfortable dorms, a place to unwind and decompress and we ensured our folks got the best recognition for doing the incredible tasks they've been charged with. At the end of the day, our advisors were able to concentrate on the advisory mission with a narrow sight picture as QoL and the basic care was in place. I think we made a difference here.

Developing AAF

The other part of my job was helping to develop the AAF. My pre-deployment training prepared me fairly well for this and allowed me to arrive here with realistic goals. I think if you do your homework on Afghan history and culture, listen to those who've walked the walk here, approach your task of advising as well-informed and (equally important) create realistic and mutually-agreed upon goals--you'll do great. The strategies you develop have to be done as a team, with you and your Afghan counterpart ... if it's your idea alone -- it doesn't matter how great it is ... it probably won't last. If it's not the right fit for your Afghan teammates, it simple won't have a long shelf-life. Over the last year we have seen increases in manning, the standup of technical and professional development courses and the creation of a brand new Afghan air force base out west in Shindand ... we made a difference.

Leaving a legacy

Over my years, I've seen some of our military's best leaders in action here, making their year count. My previous vice wing commander, Col. Crieg Rice, was such a leader. His creative, forward-thinking leadership helped create an innovative aviation and english training campus for developing future Afghan Air Force Pilots. I also had the privilege to work alongside Tech. Sergeants Darryl Guppy and Arthur Barad, two of the hardest-working, most passionate guys I've seen in my 24 plus years. They were the nucleus of a group of junior NCOs who were not content with the status quo in our dorm and recreation areas. They took it upon themselves to improve every aspect of those areas here in Kabul. There was also Master Sgt. Giselle Boyle, who simply came in to work each day with a smile for everyone and brightened any room she was in -- attitude is everything, and the right one is a force-enabler; and she absolutely was one! My last example of someone really making the year of their life over here really count is Chief Master Sgt. Dave Staton. Dave was my senior enlisted partner at the Kandahar Air Wing and truly was a guy who walked the walk. Which walk? ALL of them. He spent every waking hour focused on QoL for his troops and equally his zeal was channeled at growing the new Command Sergeant Major of the Afghan Kandahar Air Wing. By the time he left, Dave had mentored young CSM Hassan into a squared-away leader of his men. Today, CSM Hassan is a superb enlisted leader who has the respect of his commanders and his airmen. All of those Airmen simply could have come to work each day, advised their Afghan teammates and went back to their room to zone out, watch TV and Skype friends and family back home. Those are but a few examples of people truly leaving a legacy of excellence behind them--people that absolutely made their year count.

In Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars," the author quotes President Karzai, who upon learning of Shah Massoud's assassination said this of Afghanistan, "What an unlucky country." And while there is no doubt Afghanistan has had a tough and rugged past, with men and women like we have serving here with us today, there is true hope here for a better future.
During our time here, we also grew another generation of combat-proven American Airmen. But the real bottom line is our lasting contribution to this part of the world is us acting as an enabler for peace. At the end of our involvement here with NATO, we will have Afghans teaching Afghans, and Afghans providing security for fellow Afghans, and that ultimately brings pride, stability and confidence in their own government.

So having said all that, do I feel like I made a difference in my year? Did I make my 8,760 hours count? I think so -- I couldn't look myself in the mirror, having given away a year of time without my family for this worthy cause, if I didn't wake up every day with that target in my aperture -- making a difference. Time will be the true test of whether I made a difference or not. I believe my unit made significant strides with our Afghan brothers and sisters, and I know I was part of that.

The old adage "bloom where you are planted," applies anywhere ... whether at home, in garrison, or on 365-day TDYs, unaccompanied tours or long deployments -- it also applies to any assignment or job you find yourself in. The great French Army General Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, "In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!"

Make every day count, make every hour count ... Opportunities are everywhere, it doesn't matter if you leave a small positive impact or a huge one -- just make a difference!