A few years ago, I got stuck with what I thought was a bad deal at the time. I went to Camp Pendleton to relearn all the “grunt” skills, like tactical shooting and patrolling that I’d forgotten about years before, as well as to learn some basic Pashto, field medicine, negotiation, and so on. Then, I deployed to southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, with a team of similarly trained Marines to work with a battalion of Afghan Border Police.
Included in my responsibilities was the mentorship of an Afghan battalion executive officer and a company commander. Surprisingly, in the end, I think I learned more from the Afghans than they did from me. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my military career. Whether that’s a comment on my weaknesses or their strengths I’ll leave for others to judge.n 1988, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called “Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The homespun wisdom borne of the basics we teach children was a sensation at the time. Its advice, such as “Play fair” and “Don’t hit people,” is still as true at age 55 as it is at 5. Of course, there are some things one needs to know that are not taught in kindergarten — driving and sex education come to mind. But the point is that much of what we really need to know to be successful is really just the basics. Just as adults forget the simple lessons of childhood in favor of the complexities of adulthood, often to their detriment, so do militaries.
In our sole-superpower, globe-spanning dominance, we have lost much of our former speed, flexibility, and mental agility. Just as adults can learn from children, so can Americans can learn from Afghans. Some of what makes Afghans effective are traits that Americans have lost in the course of industrializing warfare.