An HBS student in Afghanistan

Daniel is an HBS student currently deployed in Afghanistan. Prior to HBS, he worked in finance but enlisted in the Marines Reserves as an infantryman. During his first year at HBS, he received his first deployment order, and Daniel is currently serving a 12 month activation cycle. He has had a tremendous amount of support from the school, including personally from the Dean, and will return to complete his MBA after his one year activation. HBS has historically been extremely supporting of its military students, and the administration worked with Daniel's situation to make sure he received full credit for the first year of his MBA. Everyone is looking forward to his return.

Recently I got an update from him, and he agreed to share some of his story online at my request. They are thoughts that certainly many soldiers and Marines have had at one point or another. The following is an excerpt from his writings in Afghanistan:

"Afghanistan, Helmand Province in particular, is the most different placeI've ever been in my life. To begin with, everything is the coyote-tan color ofdirt. Not surprising, given that the dirt here is a moon-dust-like powderyconsistency that begins to puff up and out before my boots even touch theground. Everywhere I look, all I see is the tan of the dirt and everything itcovers: the ground, mud compounds, roads, rocks, our cammies, hesco barriers,trucks, even the air. The landscape is absolutely barren - just sand and rocksas far as the horizon in every direction. The fact that people live here at theprecipice of non-existence is a testament to their tenacity. The dry air andhot sand conspire to literally suck the life out of anything exposed to theelements (and, let's face it, everything out here is exposed to the elements).Even the mud-walled compounds that they build straight out of the dirt aroundthem look like a day of solid rain would extinguish all signs that anybody everexisted here. And that makes it all the more amusing to me that at least threeworld powers have fought over ownership of this land in the last 100 years. Theonly explanation I can think of is that those wars were initiated whilestanding in front of a map of the world, drawing lines from here to there. It'simpossible to imagine someone with both feet on the ground staring at the dustyexpanse of nothingness and deciding to throw thousands of young lives at"owning" what they saw. Owning the desert seems like an almost purelytheoretical concept tantamount to owning a cubic foot of air - boundaries areinvisible, there's basically nothing in it, and you can't do much with it. Butfrom what we got as far as Afghan history classes goes, lines were drawn in thesky and the locals must have felt like aliens arrived in flying saucers.

The most surprising thing here has been the children. In an environment sodevoid of stimuli, the kids are some of the most engaging, dynamic bunch I'veever seen. They run up to you on patrols and speak English! Unfortunately, it'sclear that their English was learned from Marines (Helmand province being ourmain area of operations), which ranks slightly higher than learning English injail, I suppose. But they absolutely exude a level of intelligence that isshocking to most of our prejudiced expectations. One little kid came up to usand said, in English, "Today you have six trucks! More trucks today. Youare new!". Definitely not one that you want to turn down when asked for"biscuit" and "juice" in case the Taliban also has biscuitsand juice to spare. Oddly, you only see kids and old people, nothing inbetween. Something definitely happens between childhood and old age, though,because the older people are the most reserved, quiet people I have seen.Despite their quietness, I don't imagine any of that intelligence and sharpnessof mind goes away.

In general, the dissonance between life back home and life over here continuesto demonstrate the absurdity of the universe, which (ironically) helps keepthings light and my spirits up. Despite feeling a bit far from home, I'm pumpedto finally be in Afghanistan doing what I joined the Marines to do."

Job well done Daniel. We are proud of you.