Anniversary Series: Afghanistan Deployment

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In 2018, A-G Associates turns 10 years old. Many of my friends know that I deployed to Afghanistan, but few know the story of the company’s survival during my absence. This story is part of an Anniversary Series that reflects on A-G’s history with success, failure, and everything in between.

Re-Entry into the Reserves

In 2010, I returned to the Marine Corps Reserves after a 5-year break. Originally, I had been in the Infantry and had deployed to Iraq and I felt strongly about returning to the Marine Corps because I had more to give. It was important for me to set a good example for my daughter regarding service and sacrifice. I joined the 2nd Civil Affairs Group (CAG) in Washington, D.C., knowing that I would deploy. My role as a Civil Affairs Marine was similar to what I do as a civilian professional in terms of engaging key stakeholders and building localized action plans to increase stability in foreign countries.

Later that year, I was sent to Panama for a month-long exercise. During that time, A-G’s Vice President, Peg Anthony, did an incredible amount of work to cover for me on the projects that we were working on. She and I communicated regularly, and she kept me updated on major project milestones. Not once did Peg complain or ask me to help, and her efforts allowed me to focus my work in Panama where I was awarded with the Navy Achievement Medal.

In January 2011, I began a period of active duty for the Marine Corps as I prepared for a 7-month deployment to Afghanistan. I had the unique opportunity to serve in a Management Consultant role for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) in a remote area of Afghanistan. I worked to help the local Government, in partnership with the Marine Corps and other US and British Government agencies, to support efforts that would lead to political and economic stability in an area called Kajaki. This area had a large hydroelectric dam which made it very valuable to both GIRoA and the Taliban as well. I worked with local leaders to reach key influencers and execute several small projects that supported efforts in agriculture, public health, and the local economy.  These efforts helped me earn a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Unconditional Support

During this entire period Peg was extremely supportive of my decision to re-enter the Reserves. Peg is a Marine Corps mother, herself, and knew that this was important to me. Despite periods where she knew that I would be gone, some lasting for close to a year, she still encouraged me to join 2nd CAG. There were periods where her sincere support truly gave me the strength to continue.

When I was preparing to leave for Afghanistan, the company was very small. When I left, Peg hired a former Marine, also named Chris, to take my place during the deployment. Peg knew that Chris’ military background would help her to get things done and keep the company alive.

When I returned in 2012, the company was thriving, and A-G was profitable enough to employ Chris and myself. We each had different skill sets so we formed a solid team. Peg encouraged us to work together and find new ways to develop business. Together, we won several projects in the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDIC, which helped A-G grow its employee base, diversity of skill sets, and capacity.

As I transitioned back to civilian life, Peg also encouraged me to speak about my experiences in Afghanistan. I wrote several articles and presented at places like the Project Management Institute and the Inter-agency Visual Media Group, Towson University, University of Maryland, Morgan State University, American University, and Murray Hill Middle School. These speaking opportunities have led to a healthy transition back to civilian life as well as new project opportunities.

Lessons Learned

Lesson 1 – Power of Communication. During any given day, I met with ten people with different ambitions and outlooks on life. This included Afghan community leaders, local government representatives, fellow Marines, British members of the Provisional Reconstruction Team, other U.S. Government agencies (USAID, State, Agriculture, etc.) and other military personnel. I learned that Afghans and Americans don’t see life that differently, but many times misunderstood one another because of preconceived notions. I learned the value of listening to understand versus listening to respond in Afghanistan as I drank several cups of tea and have been able to apply that skill in my work for my clients.

Lesson 2 – Mastering the Art of Purposeful Change. During my conversations with the above referenced stakeholders, I helped to coordinate various activities that lead to increased security and strengthened economic and political stability. As I helped to manage these activities, I was able to advise my Marine counterparts on the impact of each activity. This helped to ensure that we had a plan that included activities, the desired impact, alternate plans (in case things went wrong) and the necessary preparation that was required before the activity even occurred. I have used these same techniques as a consultant, and business owner, and it’s paid off immensely with mitigating risks and making impactful decisions.

Lesson 3 – Patience and Support are Imperative to Success. My final lesson was not learned in Afghanistan but was learned from someone here at home. As I reflect on my deployment experience, my initial thoughts are about the selflessness of Peg and her ability to keep A-G alive. Not only was she supportive but continued to consult with me about major business decisions, even during periods where I had limited time or little to no connectivity. Her patience and determination kept A-G alive and made the company what it is today. Her encouragement and support helped me transition back into my role in the best way possible.

Thank you for reading my story and please stay tuned for more reflections.

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