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Afghan colonel provides security, language assistance
KABUL, Afghanistan - On any given day, tens of people stream through Col. Sediqullah Saberi’s office, some are military officers seeking to have orders signed, some are workers who maintain the Garrison camp, while others come to ask for support in building a school, or digging wells for water.

Though Saberi is thought of more as a district mayor by his people, in reality he is the 3rd Division Garrison commander, responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of two Afghan military schools, dining facilities, and a medical clinic for some 300 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers.

These soldiers are in turn responsible for the security of two coalition camps, Camp Julien and Camp Dubs.

“I have about 500 students passing through here every two months,” said Saberi, with a broad smile, but simultaneously shaking his head while working with his remote control to catch the evening news, this time about an insurgent rocket firing into the U.S. Embassy compound. Despite the news, Saberi has patience with his guests, several U.S. officers who have come to seek his help with support in language training for a group of newly minted Afghanistan/Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands.

The AFPAK Hands program, initiated by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2009, is designed to provide language and culture training to officers and senior enlisted servicemembers for the areas they will be deployed to, thereby accelerating the transition of responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan government.

“Thank you for your precious gift of friendship and the hospitality you show us every time we come,” said Mike Judge, a senior Department of Defense civilian from the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and the liaison for the language program that is executed by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC).

“We would like to ask for your help in establishing an immersion experience with our AFPAK Hands, and to allow them to stay and work with your soldiers for five days,” continued Judge.

“By working together and understanding each other’s ways, customs, your customs, tradition and culture, and for us to learn the languages of the Afghan people – will show the people that we are together as one – as we move Afghanistan forward,” said Judge.
“Yes, language is built by conversation - speaking. I have had these teams before and when they come I will assign them to my officers, my soldiers,” responded Saberi, as two land line phones illuminated, his cell phone rang, but the walkie-talkie remained silent.

“I welcome you and your soldiers. You are welcome any time.”

“It is important when they come to spend time to talk, to live the life, to sit and eat meals together,” said Navy Capt. James Muir, director of the AFPAK Hands program in Afghanistan.

“This was Gen. (Stanley) McCrystal’s idea,” he added, while Saberi smiled and gestured toward a large framed photo on his table, depicting McCrystal and himself. “Yes, McCrystal is a good man,” commented Saberi.

And with that the deal was sealed. Ten AFPAK Hands would be welcome to spend a week of vital training and exposure to ANA forces, experiencing a total immersion, improving their language skills and establishing rapport with their counterparts.

The conversation then moved on to other subjects, such as the various patches on Saberi’s uniform, ranging from a Ranger tab, to an AFPAK Hands tab. “Oh, I received this as gifts from my friends,” Saberi explained, patting his patches down proudly. “I have been serving in the military for 35 years and wanted to retire, but they said ‘no,’” he explained, adding that times were tough and his leadership was needed.

“I was 13 years old when I entered military school. I spent six years in school, four years in college, and four years in Russia to attend the military academy. These were the best years of my life,” he said, laughing, adding that he appreciated the Russian life-style.

“And then, during the Taliban, I worked six years de-mining,” he explained, with a more somber tone and a telling smile that denoted times were even more difficult then.

As the visit drew to an end, Saberi rose, demanded photos to be taken, and grabbed a surprised Judge by the shoulders saying, “Mike, my friend, I will miss you,” referring to the nearing end of Judge’s tour. 

Story and photos by:

Natela Cutter

Caption: Afghan National Army Col. Sediqullah Saberi hugs Mike Judge, a  liaison for the language program that is executed by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, during a meeting on Sept. 12, to establish an immersion event for language-enabled Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands.

Caption: ANA Col. Sediqullah Saberi (center) hosts lunch for (left) AFPAK Hands director Navy Capt. James Muir, DLIFLC Commandant Col. Danial Pick, Army Lt. Col. Mark Viney, and DLIFLC language representative Mike Judge. Opposite of the U.S. delegation sit ANA officers and (right) Col. Saberi's interpreter.

DLIFLC 1759 Lewis Rd. Bldg 614, Ste. 251 - Presidio of Monterey - Monterey, CA 93944 (831) 242-7176, (DSN-768)