By Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 4, 2009 - Being deployed to Afghanistan as part of a provincial reconstruction team is the experience of a lifetime for an intelligence officer with a passion for Middle Eastern culture. Air Force Capt. Don Moss, deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the chief of Paktia PRT's intelligence section. His primary job is identifying and training his team about roadside bombs and other threats to the unit.
The PRT is based just outside of Gardez City, about 45 miles from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At an altitude of 7,680 feet above sea level, Paktia province is about the size of Rhode Island and is home to nearly half a million people.
Moss said he is optimistic about Paktia, in part because he and other PRT members have cultivated a strong relationship with the province's senior religious leaders, meeting with them regularly to discuss governance and security challenges. The effort has paid off, Moss said, noting several instances of the religious leaders identifying local security threats.
"We're all looking forward to fostering this relationship and using it to benefit the lives of the people in Paktia," he said.
Moss also has been a driving force in the Paktia district government outreach program, which extends Afghan governance throughout the province by facilitating coordination between provincial and district officials and village leaders in remote districts.
"Paktia's rural areas and the areas least visited are those most at risk from the enemies of Afghanistan," Moss said. "They are also the areas where unhappiness with the slow pace of progress has been the greatest. In the past, many of these areas have received only minor assistance and received few, if any, provincial-level government official visits."
PRTs have become an integral part of the long-term strategy to transform Afghanistan. The Paktia PRT focuses on projects such as road construction that will connect people to the provincial infrastructure, fostering relationships between districts and increasing trade.
"Afghan lives and governance are getting better because of the U.S. military members serving in Afghanistan," Moss said. "On a day-to-day basis, there are people all over Paktia who are experiencing positive events that were foreign to them in the past under Taliban and Soviet rule."
As a graduate of the Arabic Special Projects Course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, Calif., Moss said he understands the importance of being able to communicate. In an effort to increase cultural understanding between PRT members and local residents, Moss created a Pashto language course for his colleagues.
"The ability to communicate is essential for this team and truly enhances our relationship with villagers throughout the province," he said. "We are fortunate to have so many opportunities to meet the unique people of Afghanistan."
(Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran serves with the Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team.)