Belmont Club

Not exactly nine to five

How does this compare with working for ACORN? An NYT article entitled Dream job: Training Afghans as bullets fly describes the life of two Marines in outpost with 30 Afghans. “Their senior mentor, Cpl. Sean P. Conroy, of Carmel, N.Y., is 25 years old. His assistant, Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Murray, of Fort Myers, Fla., is 21.”

Each day they organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the valley below, some of the most dangerous acreage in the world. Each night they participate in radio meetings with the American posts along the ridges, exchanging plans and intelligence, and plotting the counterinsurgency effort in the ancient villages below. … He does not hide that he likes his life here: the senior man in an isolated post, surrounded by the Taliban, waking to a new patrol every day and drilling what he calls the Alamo Plan, to be executed if the firebase is overrun.

“This is the sweetest deal ever,” he [Conroy] said one evening between firefights. “There is no other place I could get a job like this — not at this rank.”

That’s a statement which requires a particular attitude to understand. You could see the reporter wasn’t so sure one way or the other.

“You know what I don’t like about America?” he said, in the chill beneath lingering stars. “If you do what I do, then they think either you should have PTSD or you are some sort of psychopath.” PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder. He exhaled cigarette smoke. “This is my job,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.

In a moment that recalled the scene in Apocalypse Now, of which the writer may have been slightly aware, Conroy described how he had bought a cow to fete an Afghan officer, who unlike his predecessor, didn’t mind getting his hands dirty.

The Afghan soldiers bound the animal’s legs and flipped it onto its side. A soldier worked a blade across its throat. These Afghan soldiers eat meat once every two or three weeks. Tonight they would feast.

They were palpably happy. “Let Barack Obama come here and kill a cow for us,” one said. The rest laughed.

Corporal Conroy watched until the jokes subsided. War, like politics, is local. He reminded the Afghans that a platoon looked out for itself, and that he was the senior American on hand. “You don’t need Obama here,” he said. “I bought the cow.”