War and Ice Cream


Anyone that knows me knows that I love ice cream. I try it all over the world. 

But it's not just the food that I love; it's a simple fact that it is generally universally loved.

For example, the picture above is from a time I bought ice cream for all the kids in recently liberated from Daesh western Mosul from the newly reopened ice cream shop. But my love for buying ice cream goes far beyond this. To see where it comes from, we must go back to Afghanistan. 

Ever since my first trip in 2004, we would buy little candies and treats for the kids we came across on our missions. However, my last trip as a soldier in 2011 solidified ice cream as a permanent fixture for my travels. 

We had just spent two days fighting in the Panjawai/Zhari districts of Kandahar province. After six skirmishes in the span of 12 hours, you could say I was a little on edge. 

The next day we were tasked to do biometrics in a village next to the area we had just spent the last 24 hours fighting. As we entered the first house, kids were already crying as we came asking for the males. Trying to calm them down, I handed out a few of the treats I had on me. It worked to help calm the nerves a little while we conducted our work. We soon left to continue with the long and tedious task.

Heading towards the next compound, I could see the head of a man on the other side of a small hill along the path. As we moved forward, we ordered the man to stop. He did not comply and continued toward us. The Afghan Police with us now moved on with a bit of anxiety. Within seconds we could see the man pushing a cart. I immediately reacted with my rifle and moved to lock him down, hollering at him to stop. My Afghan counterparts did the same, and the situation rapidly grew in intensity. My initial thoughts were that this was a cart full of explosives, and we had to get it stopped before we took casualties.

After a lot of yelling and rifle pointing, the man finally stopped. The Afghan Police with us moved and started to check him for explosives. All of this to only find out that his cart was full of ice cream snacks. The young man explained he was selling ice cream and was in pure panic mode, as one can imagine. 

Then it hit me. I almost shot the ice cream guy. What kind of person shoots the ice cream man?

Feeling horrible for this, I moved to speak with him. It was then I had the idea of how we could work together.

"Ask him how much it would cost me for all of his ice creams," I told my interpreter.

The man looked at me with a bit confused. The two conversed for a minute or two, and the man started digging into the cart. Shirt now being used as a bucket and full of ice cream snacks, he tilted his head back and was clearly calculating.

He then told my interpreter a number. He laughed. It was evident that the first number wasn't a good one.

Laughing, I asked, "How bad is it?"

"He wants like $200," he responded.

I laughed; "Yeah, that's pretty steep. How many snacks are in there?" I responded while moving up to the cart. After a quick count, I had twenty plus treats. I dug to see how deep it went.

"Yeah, man. I'll do $200, but he has to spend the day with us handing out the ice cream."

My interpreter smiled and relayed this to the ice cream man. His eyes lit up. He was more than happy to do this. So, I hired him. We then spent the day together, handing out ice cream to all the kids while completing our task. 

It was during this day together that it all hit me. Compound after compound, it was the same. We would knock, they would answer. We would explain what we needed, and then the kids would get upset. Shortly after, the ice cream came out. Every time, after a little courage from the men, the kids would take the ice cream, and all was well.

Even better was the reaction from the men.

It was easy to see that many of these men we had come across were fighters. They just weren't fighting today. So, here we were standing in the courtyard together. The smiles of relief as they realized we were there to do our job as they have theirs to do as well. Just men caught in the middle of life. On their faces, you could see the joy of seeing their kids happy, enjoying the little things in life. For those few moments together, we were just men trying to make the best of the day.

Having hit hundreds, if not thousands, of compounds over the many deployments here, I never really thought about the moments after we left. How we went back to our lives, and they went back to theirs. But, their lives were met with scared and upset kids, wives, families. On this day, I saw it all through a simple gesture of respect for the situation. A gesture I did selfishly to avoid the pain of house after house of upset kids and arguing while we tried to complete our tasking.

After that mission, I went back to my office and tasked my small team with pulling analytics for that little strip of road heading out of Kandhar City. After the next few months, all SigActs (Significant Acts) for that small strip declined. It's not saying that these men gave up their arms. It's just saying that there is a small piece of evidence that love and compassion are more powerful than most think.

This lesson I have taken with me on my journeys to Nepal, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Oman/Yemen border.

So, if you ever see me along my journey enjoying a delicious ice cream bar, know that this is where it started.

#twimcf #theworldismycountry #icecream #unconventionalbenevolence