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
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.
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
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.
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
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)