By Air Force Capt. David Tomiyama
Khost Provincial Reconstruction Team
KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Aug. 1, 2011 – Though he has been in Afghanistan for only a few weeks, Army 1st Sgt. Thomas Walsh, noncommissioned officer in charge of civil affairs for the provincial reconstruction team here, already has made months’ worth of progress in connecting the people of the province’s Terezayi district to their government.
The Chicago native has built working relationships with the district governor and his staff, held key leader engagements with village elders, explored project options in the district and helped to plan several community meetings. It’s all in a day’s work, though, the 28-year Army reservist said.
“Civil affairs is about cultivating relationships, listening to the Afghans, understanding their culture and value system, and working with the district governor in any way I can,” he said. “I work day to day with the district governor, building up his credibility and supporting his vision for Terezayi. We all win when the district wins.”
Terezayi is close to the Pakistan border, six miles away from the provincial capital of Khost City, and is one of the largest districts in Khost province. Terezayi residents often feel disconnected from their government, one of the many challenges Walsh said he faces on a day-to-day basis.
“Terezayi has its shortcomings in areas that the people feel should be addressed,” he said. “They often feel like the ‘country bumpkins’ compared to the city folks in Khost.”
Other challenges in Terezayi include divisions among villages in the district. The civil war took its toll on their relationships and bred greed with regard to the money spent on reconstruction and development projects, Walsh said.
But Walsh added that he believes he has made great strides in getting through to the elders that they need to take control of their villages and secure their areas.
“I know I’ve made a difference with the village elders. They’re not listening to negative influences, and they’ve given me their personal word there’s no improvised explosive devices on their roads or in their areas,” Walsh said. “At one of the villages where I kept my word and brought a [provincial reconstruction team] engineer to check out potential projects, the village elder was so grateful, he wanted me to stay overnight. I told him I needed to be with my security detail, but he assured me I’d be safe in their village -- that they would be my security.”
Walsh’s goals for Terezayi are to legitimize the district governor and bring many of the villages together.
“When I leave here, I’d want the governor to be comfortable in his role,” he said. “The governor has a much better understanding of the process to get things done between him and the provincial governor.”
Walsh’s work as a one-man civil affairs team at Combat Outpost Terezayi has not gone unnoticed. Army Capt. Dan Leard, commander of the 1st Infantry Division’s Able Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, in Task Force Duke, has nothing but praise for Walsh.
“I’ve had four [civil affairs] detachments out here during my rotation,” the Kittanning, Pa., native said. “In the last 10 days, 1st Sergeant Walsh has cultivated a relationship with the district governor and 16 village elders. The trust and bonds he’s built has blown away anything the previous [civil affairs] teams did in months; his … abilities are exceptional.”