Letters from Afghanistan 










Airman to provide inside look at Afghanistan
Thelen will serve a year overseas in global fight against terrorism

June 10, 2010

Editorís note: Lt. Robert Thelen of Oconomowoc left this week for a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan. On a monthly basis, he will update the Oconomowoc community on his actions and the happenings in Afghanistan. You can read his letters exclusively in the Oconomowoc Enterprise.

By Lt. Robert Thelen
Special to the Enterprise

Salam Alekum. (Hello, God Bless), My name is Robert Thelen, and I am a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I am about to embark upon a one-year deployment to Afghanistan as a combat adviser. Over the next year, hopefully on a monthly basis, I will be a guest columnist in this paper, more on that later. Before I get too far ahead of myself, letís rewind a bit.

A little about me: I was born and raised in Oconomowoc and I graduated from Oconomowoc High School in 2002. After high school, I went to the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in business administration and human resources, and I also received my commission into the USAF through Air Force ROTC.

After commissioning, I became an aircraft maintenance officer stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. As a maintenance officer, I was responsible for 21 F-15Es and over 200 enlisted personnel. I received acclaim as the Maintenance Groupsí Flight Commander of the Year in 2009 and Mountain Home AFBís Company Grade Officer of the year in 2010.

Although I deployed to Guam in 2008, I felt a need to directly contribute to the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, so when I was offered a rare opportunity to deploy with the United States Army as a combat adviser, I jumped at the opportunity.

For the past three months, I have been down at Fort Polk, La., going through the rigorous combat adviser training course. We are taught how to speak the Dari (the language), the customs of Afghanistan, how to communicate, how to influence, how to negotiate, counter insurgency doctrine and the kinetic skills that may be required to keep us alive (shoot, move, communicate). After we learn the basics of the language and customs, we learn how to shoot, how to cordon and search houses, how to convoy, how to call in close air support.

Then we take our training and apply it.

The United States Army has built dozens of villages throughout their ranges and populate them with role players, real Afghans and even goats to add to the realism. We go in, talk about an ongoing project, react to ambush, suicide bombers, IED, then we talk about it. Three months ago, I was apprehensive about deploying to such an unknown country; now, I have the training and the confidence to do the mission that is before me.

And that mission is one of the most interesting in the Armed Forces right now. In the realm of counter insurgency doctrine, advising is at its core. I will be leading an advising team (eight to 10 people), and we will advise a unit concerning all issues that may come up.  We are not there to direct the Afghans what to do, but simply to use the tools of influence, and, if need be, negotiation to push the ANA in the right direction.

For the United States to pull out of a stable Afghanistan, the Afghan government must be strong enough to stand, and the citizens must trust the government more than the Taliban.

The goal of this monthly column is to paint a different picture of the war effort than you see on the news. Only a small percentage of troops in Afghanistan are kicking down doors; most are holding and defending land and helping build up a country that has been at constant war for 30 years. The media likes images of tracer rounds filling up the evening sky, but they ignore the schools, the roads and the wells that have been built.

Over the next year, I hope to discuss counter insurgency doctrine more in depth, the Afghan people and the day-by-day life of the combat adviser.

Allah Hafez!  (God Bless, Good bye)

>>next letter, 07-08-10