Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tools For the Job

It's been nearly a month since my last post, so clearly my attempt to post more regularly has failed thus far. The last part of February and first part of March have been busy and stressful, and I haven't been in a good frame of mind to write much. Our physical training program has been changed, resulting in some much longer days, and I'll cover more about that in a future entry. I hope to start writing some reviews and commentary about some of the music, movies, books, and TV shows I watch to pass the time, much like the entries I often wrote before the deployment.

For today, I'll write a little about something that happened this afternoon, because it is a very important part of our mission here. As I have mentioned before, we spend a few a days every week working with the Afghan National Army's 205th Corps Band, a much smaller and relatively (musically) inexperienced band located near our base. One thing we realized early on is that the band is not particularly well-equipped: most of their instruments are old, poorly-made, and in disrepair. It is unfortunate that top-quality instruments simply are not easily available in this part of the world, and I'm not sure where any of these came from. Even though the Afghan soldiers have had little formal education in music, it became clear that their substandard instruments were impeding their progress. Instruments that cannot be easily tuned, cleaned, or maintained, that can't be held correctly lest they fall apart, and have frequent mechanical breakdowns are not conducive to making music to inspire Soldiers. Because funds are allocated to help the International Security Assistance Force equip and train the ANA, it was decided that we would request funds to secure new instruments and equipment for the 205th Band. (I just now realized the irony that I'm writing this after having written a post about getting myself some new mouthpieces. I guess I'm all about band equipment these days...)

As our band's Resource Management Noncommissioned Officer, it fell to me to do the legwork in getting the process started. I'll spare you the complex details, but ordering anything through official channels is a complicated process over here, largely to insure that the system isn't abused through frivolous spending. Our commanding officer played a large part in making sure that as many people as possible understood the importance of a successful military band, and how important it is for a band to have the right equipment. After determining what type of instruments, maintenance supplies, and equipment such as music stands were needed, I had to contact vendors in the US and get price quotes. I also had to write up the proposal stating how badly these items were needed. It took several weeks for our proposal to get all the way up the chain to reviewing personnel in Kabul.

Last week, we recieved official confirmation that a contract had been approved and the order was being filled. We expected it might take up to another two months for everything to arrive. But to our great surprise, we got that anticipated phone call that our order had arrived today, and could we please get our sizeable amount of boxes out of the contracting office. So most of my afternoon was spent securing a pickup truck and hauling all the new gear to our storage area. Next on the agenda, probably tomorrow afternoon, is checking all the boxes against the shipping manifest to make sure that everything is accounted for, and then inspecting the items to see that they survived the shipping process.

It may seem strange that a shipment of band instruments could be important in a war zone, but we hope that by helping this band to become stronger and seeing that they have the right tools for the job, we will have done our part to strengthen the bonds between the US and Afghan forces.

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