A Place Only Soldiers and Children Can See

The battle in Afghanistan continues after ten long years. Beyond the frontlines and the fighting, a generation has grown up amidst the ‘reality’ and ‘insanity’ of conflict. For one returned US Army Reserve Captain, the moments shared with these forgotten women and children will forever shape her understanding of war.

After ten years people tend to forget. They tend to forget what war does. What it does to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. What it does to the women and children who are ‘lucky’ enough to live through it, and grow up knowing nothing but war. War plays with the mind. It blends the worlds of reality and insanity and creates a new place that only soldiers and children see. That was made clear on a trip I took to Daykundi Province in 2011 to visit one of the ‘Cultural Support Teams’. These all-female teams were established by the US Army and Marines to reach out to the half of the population that people tend to forget about – women and children.

It was visiting one of those small villages that helped me understand what war does. The Taliban once controlled this particular village. That fact was difficult to imagine because I was able to walk, hand-in-hand, with small children to a nearby local home to visit some of the women. The Afghan men in this particular village had grown tired of the Taliban and decided to join the Afghan local police to protect their homes by the time I arrived in May of 2011.

The hospitality in Afghanistan is like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced before. The women welcomed us in with hugs and kisses to sit and talk. They cooked for us, and as we ate our Afghan rice and laughed together, it seemed for a brief moment entirely possible that this small reality we created in this clay home could actually last. We talked about their families and daughters; we brought them some fresh pineapple that had come in on the last military shipment. The sour look on their faces right before they spat out the pineapple and laughed was priceless. The meeting only lasted about two hours, but after we left their home and walked back to the small forward operating base, I sat under the brilliant stars of the Afghan sky with a feeling I could only describe as euphoric. I was naïve enough to believe in possibility and hope. I was naïve enough to think a moment like that could last.

It was what happened the next day, and every day after that helped me to understand what happens in a war. I was asked to grab my camera to document a small child, and when I finally saw him, I understood why. I watched as the young Special Forces medic tenderly treated the three-year old boy with burns to over 80 percent of his body. I saw the care and sadness in his eyes as he cleaned his wounds and administered morphine. It was then that the reality of the world I was in kicked me in the teeth. It was then I received my education on war.

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Text and Photography by Rebecca Murga.