Sunday, November 30, 2008

American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman

21 Sep 2008 at 13:56 by Jean-Marc Liotier
American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT
The US often hears echoes of worldwide hostility against the application
of its foreign policy, but seldom are they reached by the voices of
those who experience first hand how close we are to the USA. In spite of
contextual political differences and conflicting interests that generate
friction, we do share the same fundamental values - and when push comes
to shove that is what really counts. Through the eyes of that French
OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams) infantryman you can see how
strong the bond is on the ground. In contrast with the Americans, the
French soldiers don't seem to write much online - or maybe the
proportion is the same but we just have less people deployed. Whatever
the reason, this is a rare and moving testimony which is why I decided
to translate it into English, so that American people can catch a
glimpse of the way European soldiers see them. Not much high philosophy
here, just the first hand impressions of a soldier in contact - but that
only makes it more authentic.
Here is the original French article
, and here is my
translation :
"We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while -
they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry
battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy.
To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with
them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor
to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that
the movies brought to the public as series showing "ordinary soldiers
thrust into extraordinary events". Who are they, those soldiers from
abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the
men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the
one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company,
and it has become the support company.
They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the
language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to
write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes
trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state
they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some
crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.
Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and
creatine - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their
muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we
are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often
mistake us for Afghans.
Here we discover America as it is often depicted : their values are
taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the
loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor,
motherland - everything here reminds of that : the American flag
floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post
parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American
cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold
high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on
the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all
that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location :
books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way
that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his
difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the
American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat
team are the focus of all his attention.
And they are impressive warriors ! We have not come across bad ones, as
strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people
can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them
provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the
wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet
strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at
the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square
meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five
consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top,
their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No
distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At
night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of
subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the
move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything
happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.
And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all - always coming
to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the
shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch from T-shirt
and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with
the ennemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting : they just
charge ! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask
questions later - which cuts any pussyfooting short.
We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are
performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing
American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that
everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours
before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have
been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy
heir to those who liberated France and Europe.
To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts
and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who
pay the daily tribute of America's army's deployment on Afghan soil, to
those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain
worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all
the same band of brothers".

David S. Maxwell
COL, U.S. Army
Cell Phone: 910-494-1604
Official email: (Blackberry)
Personal Alternate Email: "Irregular warfare
is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge."
T.E. Lawrence