My friend Dan, who is a helicopter pilot here in the Guard and an East Providence cop back in our other lives, came in late last night to talk to me.
"You wouldn't believe what happened today with Operation Outreach...a guy at a school asked us for concertina wire."
"Huh? I don't get it."
"We went down to a school located right near a prison in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Kabul. After the team leaders handed out a bunch of stuff, to include towels that had "USA" stamped on them, and everyone mugged to take a bunch of pictures with the kids, we asked the principal if there was anything else he needed. He asked us for concertina wire (basically, barbed wire on a roll) to put around the school. At first, we couldn't understand why, so we had him explain.
"A lot of the people in this neighborhood moved here because of the prison," he said. They have relatives that are going to be here for a long time, and they hate [Coalition Forces] and [the Afghan government]." Now that they've seen all of you come to see me, and especially if they see some of this stuff, they might try to hurt us.
I couldn't believe it. Especially on the heels of the entries about gratitude, and about unintended consequences, it seemed like an amazing convergence of ideas.
The group that chose that school was never sought out, or even asked, to come.
To them, and for their incentive structure, though, none of that matters.
They'll take a few cute pictures, they'll document the trip in their After-Action Report, and they'll write it up in their End-of-Tour Award Citations. In addition, they'll get a "Thanks for Playing" Volunteer medal.
Meanwhile, some guy in Arzan Qimat is going to bed at night worried about whether his school might get attacked now because of the way someone else perceived the incident.
Second- and third-order effects are fascinating stuff.