Lt. Col. Boucher salutes Afghan National Army
Lt. Col. Pat Boucher recently returned home from a war zone to attend his father’s funeral, but despite the somber circumstances, the Corydon resident shared an encouraging first-hand account of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Boucher, 53, joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and entered the Army National Guard in the mid-1970s. He received his commission as second lieutenant in 1982 and has since climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel.
His military career has come full circle.
The enemy in Vietnam consisted largely of small insurrectionists engaging in guerrilla war. During the years following the war, Boucher trained for large-scale warfare. Now the enemy is again characterized by small groups who practice guerrilla warfare.
Boucher put his life on hold after 9/11. He knew that sooner or later he would receive orders that would turn his largely weekend service into an extended overseas deployment.
It wasn’t until late July 2004 that Boucher was sent to Afghanistan. A month later he was in Herat, 50 miles east of the Iranian border, and that is where he has spent most of his time since.
‘What we are trying to do from a national standpoint is get the Afghan National Army stood up so they can follow their president’s orders and protect their nation,’ Boucher said.
After decades of fighting, Aghanistan was controlled primarily by The Taliban, but it was also a country filled with warlords and the rebel Northern Alliance.
‘If you talk to some of the Afghans there, they’ll tell you The Taliban was a pretty cruel set of people,’ Boucher said, referring to stories of public beatings and executions.
‘When you are fighting those kind of people, you just have to believe you are on the right side,’ Boucher said.
About 18,000 coalition forces are at work in Afghanistan, as opposed to about 150,000 in Iraq.
Most of Boucher’s service in Afghanistan has been as an operations officer, working as an advisor to an ANA counterpart.
‘They will assign missions, and there will be priorities set. You take the mission that they give, and you help them plan that mission and execute that mission,’ Boucher said.
That could include taking down weapon cache sites and illegal road blocks, or performing ‘presence patrols’ so the population can see a national army for the first time in 30 years.
In one instance related by Boucher, two warlords had come to blows. U.S. C-130s flew in about 600 Afghan soldiers backed by U.S. air power and restored order in a rapidly mobilized operation.
Military action isn’t the only way the ANA makes an impact. Among ethnic groups with significant numbers in Afghanistan are the Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbek, and members of each can be found in the national army.
The diversity of the army instills a sense of unity in the indigenous population of Afghanistan, Boucher said.
Sgt. Maj. Mohammed Hassan, an Afghan soldier, was on patrol with 30 ANA troops and 10 American soldiers when he came upon several badly beaten Gypsies. A group of four men had stolen their livestock.
‘Hassan found out where the men were, recovered all the livestock and arrested the four men who took it,’ Boucher said.
‘He did this for a group that was looked down upon in Afghanistan. Typically, those people get stepped on. They don’t get helped, and (the coalition forces) put their lives on the line for them,’ Boucher said.
‘They’ve been so tribal oriented. In the Army, they see all these groups working together, an absolutely amazing site,’ he said, adding, ‘Something they said couldn’t be done, and yet it is being done.’
Boucher describes Afghanis as a ‘courageous people.’
They had an approximate 86 percent voter turnout, ‘And there were people saying, ‘You vote, we kill you,’ ‘ he said.
Despite ‘desperately’ missing his daughters Brandi, 24, and Bridgette, 14, Boucher said he thinks long deployments are a neccesity for personnel reasons. And, he said, the Army National Guard is right where it belongs.
‘The guard has always been to supplant the regular military when we’re stretched thin. They are doing their job right now,’ he said.