Deployment Stories: Supporting Democracy in Afghanistan

Posted by Peter Sawchyn
April 13, 2009

Peter Sawchyn works in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and serves as a member of the Civilian Response Corps.

My name is Peter Sawchyn. I’m a foreign affairs officer with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. And since 2006, I’ve been a member of the standby component of the Civilian Response Corps. I deployed to Afghanistan for a 90-day assignment in – between July and October of 2008. And the primary objective of the deployment was to enhance civil-military cooperation at the brigade level. I was in – at a forward operating base in Jalalabad with the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, also known as Task Force Duke. And I worked primarily on governance and democracy issues with the brigade.

I’d like to think I accomplished a few things, primarily, helping the army’s – increasing the army’s understanding and interoperability with the State Department, the Embassy in Kabul, USAID, of course, and the United Nations Assistance Missions to Afghanistan and with – working also with Afghan NGOs. I think that was one of the most satisfying experiences – was actually making links with Afghan NGOs with the election officials. A big operation was mounting a voter registration drive in preparation for this year’s provincial elections. So the brigade was very involved in working with Afghan NGOs, providing security and advice on how to actually carry out voter registration. So connecting with Afghan NGOs, election officials, making links with brigade officers was quite satisfying; otherwise, I don’t think it would have happened. We actually brought the Afghans onto the FOB – onto the base for several meetings. And I think that increased the comfort level with the army and the Afghan NGOs to show that they were basically working toward the same thing.

The conditions were quite demanding, noisy, dusty, hot. We lived in plywood bee huts, which are basically semi-permanent wooden structures that was a step up above tents. It was a base, a forward operating base, so there were about 3,500 other people. So it was pretty noisy, crowded congestion and an airfield that operated 24/7, so we had lots of action on the base.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. It was a very enriching, engaging experience. I think I gained a lot personally, professionally. Hopefully, I added to our strategic reconstruction and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. I’d like to go for a longer time, I thought – as I thought over it. It’s now four months since I returned. I think I’d like to go for 12 months and possibly work at a PRT, instead of at a brigade level.

Related Entry: Ambassador Herbst discusses the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and the Civilian Response Corps.



Maryland, USA
April 13, 2009

Patrick in Maryland writes:

Hi, Peter Sawchyn & States People .

I liked your story, it must have been hard to sleep with all the noise from the airfield. Your work in Afghanistan sounds very exciting and rewarding. I hope to hear about your next deployment .

Thanks, for Posting your story Peter S.

....Cya... :)

California, USA
April 14, 2009

Wendy in California writes:

Dear Mr. Sawchyn,

Your idea of staying longer makes sense. All the knowledge and connections you make in 90 days would only bloom in a longer time.

It sounds like fascinating and important work.

Were women allowed to register? Will they be allowed to actually vote in serious numbers?

John M.
Virginia, USA
April 14, 2009

John M. in Virginia writes:

Congratulations, Peter, and thanks for your service.


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