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Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Mimi and I saw “Rock the Kasbah” Sunday. I don’t cover entertainment much here, so I’m not going to write much about the movie itself. For that, I recommend David Corn’s excellent piece in Mother Jones.

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

The movie took me back, though, to one of the most meaningful experiences of my career. The Bill Murray character in the movie, Richie Lanz, discovers and provides an opportunity for an Afghan girl with an enchanting voice, Salima Khan, played by Leem Lubany.

As I watched Salima pursue opportunity, at risk of her own life, in an oppressive culture, I remembered the courageous Afghan women I was privileged to cover, and spent most of a month with, back in 2002, when they came to Nebraska for a teacher training program. The women taught surreptitiously when the Taliban prohibited schooling for girls. They learned more English than I learned Dari, but through interpreters and their ability to communicate passion and courage across the language barrier, they touched me as deeply as any sources I ever worked with. I think of them every time I read of a bombing at a school in Afghanistan, and hope they are all safe and continuing to teach. (more…)

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Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002.  (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

This continues my series on updated lessons from old stories.

One of the most profound privileges of my career was to spend most of five weeks in late 2002 with 13 Afghan women teachers.

After 9/11, much of my reporting at the Omaha World-Herald focused on the work of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. It was the nation’s only academic center studying Afghanistan, so we suddenly found ourselves with some of the nation’s and the world’s leading experts on the distant country that suddenly mattered more to America than any other.

I proposed several times that my editors send me to Afghanistan to cover various UNO projects abroad in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That would have been expensive and it would have been difficult, but we absolutely should have done it. My editors’ failure/refusal to make that happen remains one of the deepest disappointments of my career. I connected by satellite phone and email with UNO officials when they were in Afghanistan on projects we should have been covering. I used similar means to reach Afghan officials, U.S. officials and leaders of other aid organizations in Afghanistan who were working with UNO. I did my best but it was all second-hand reporting, grossly inadequate.

My best shot at first-hand reporting came when UNO won a State Department grant to bring 13 Afghan women teachers to Nebraska for five weeks to teach them American culture and educational techniques. After years of Taliban bans on schooling for girls, these committed and courageous teachers were back on the job and UNO was going to help them be better teachers and teach their colleagues back home to be better teachers.

Finally, I would get to witness UNO working directly with Afghans. I sought and was granted full access to the visit, invited to virtually embed myself at times in the Afghan teaching project almost as if I were covering a U.S. combat unit over in Afghanistan. I traveled with them around the Midwest. I visited in the homes of host families where they lived. I followed them to classes in UNO and around Omaha schools.

Seldom have I been as touched and moved by the people I covered as I was by these Afghan women. Their courage, joy, perseverance and optimism amazed me day after day after day. I could see that these women had been changing the lives of Afghan girls and women for years (before and after the Taliban, Afghan schools were segregated by gender, so the women taught only girls and other women) and would do so again. (more…)

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A military honor guard carries Brandon Buttry’s casket from the airplane that brought him home to Shenandoah, Iowa.

After my nephew, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, I played a role no one ever anticipates: handling media requests about a loved one’s death.

I’m blogging some advice learned from the experience for any or all of three audiences:

  • Relatives of fallen troops who want to help the family deal with the media. (If my advice is helpful, I hope they will find the post through search or by someone sharing with them when they need it).
  • Journalists (the usual readers of this blog) who may cover military deaths.
  • Military public affairs officers or casualty assistance officers, who assist families of military casualties after the death. (I’m hoping they will find this piece through search or Google alerts or perhaps journalists sharing it with them.)

Some of my advice might fit in other situations where your family is suddenly in the news — death from a disaster or crime, for instance — but I am focusing on military deaths because that was my experience and that is a loss that more than 6,000 U.S.  families have experienced during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope you won’t need this advice, but sadly, the carnage in Afghanistan continues. (more…)

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Brandon Buttry
Jan. 10, 1993 – Nov. 5, 2012

“sup”

The first time Brandon Buttry greeted me that way on a Facebook chat, I paused a moment, trying to fill in some punctuation and a few implied letters. I guess I figured out that he was asking, “What’s up?”

Anyway, we chatted again and again, usually exchanging just a line or two (often about what was up, naturally).

What was up was that Brandon was fighting our nation’s longest war. And now he’s one of its casualties. Monday morning my brother, Don, and his wife, Pam, got the visit that parents of the men and women serving in the military dread most. Soldiers were at their door in rural Iowa with the news that Brandon had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

Don’s and my father, Luke Buttry, was an Air Force chaplain during the Vietnam War, though he never was stationed in Vietnam. His worst duty was to be the bearer of that heartbreaking news when a son or husband would not be coming home.

My generation in our family didn’t serve in the military. I was in the first age-group not drafted when we turned 19. We still had the draft lottery for people born in 1954, though. My number was 9, so I would have been called if the draft had continued. I applied for 1-AO status, meaning I was a conscientious objector who would not bear arms but would serve in a non-combat role. Until they dropped the draft, I was wondering whether I would be a chaplain’s assistant or a medic. Instead, I was a civilian journalist and happy about that.

Brandon’s father, Don, was two years younger than me, well past the end of the draft and not interested in volunteering.

Our older brother, Dan, was a conscientious objector but had a high draft number  and is a peace missionary. He was in Asia leading a 10-day conflict management seminar for religious leaders and peace activists when I called him Monday with the news of Brandon’s death. We talked about what a happy, fun kid he was. We exchanged memories of our Facebook chats with him, often starting with a “sup” from Brandon.

What was up Wednesday evening was that Mimi and I were standing on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base, a nor’easter‘s driving rain mixing with the tears on our cheeks as an honor guard carried Brandon’s flag-draped box across the tarmac. (more…)

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I congratulate my Digital First Media colleagues on today’s launch of American Homecomings, a yearlong storytelling project that will chronicle the lives of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The soldiers will share their experiences as they reintegrate into American society, shedding light on the challenges they face upon returning from the battlefield,” said Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First.

The project has been directed by Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post, and Lee Ann Colacioppo, the Post’s senior editor/investigations.

Journalists from the Post, the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., Salt Lake Tribune, New Haven Register, Chico (Calif.) Enterprise Record, Contra Costa Times and the York (Pa.) Daily Record tell the stories of eight veterans who have agreed to tell their stories. (more…)

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