Several of our sites are inaccessible to us and we are reliant on Local Nationals to oversee the construction. In our office we have not only LN Quality Assurance Representatives on all but one of our projects, but we also have a large staff of LN Project Engineers. The LNs can go where we can't, get there much easier, and are our eyes in the field. But nothing can take the place of an actual site visit. Once site we have is in Chaghcharan, a city about halfway between Herat and Kabul on the more difficult to traverse northern part of the ring road. Most traffic goes the flatter, longer way to Kabul to the south of Herat through Shindand, Kandahar, up through Ghazni and then to Kabul. But the second route is more scenic. The second route goes east from Herat through Obeh, Chesti Sharif site of the Salma Dam, Chaghcharan and then to Kabul.
This is the second time this month we were able to conduct a visit to Chaghcharan and the need for two visits comes from the remoteness of the airstrip. While we originally set up to fly in a team of six people, the night before we received a call that changed our manifest to four. This was a sore point of discussion because we know the plane can hold more than four. Not long after in a discussion on the matter we were corrected in our thinking because there were many hours of computations that went into the matter and the elevation of the airport, the orientation of the runway, and other factors truly did mandate the need for a decreased passenger load.
One reason we can make the visit with such a small group is that once we land we were joined by an ISAF (the fancy name given the Allied forces in Afghanistan) group on the ground that provided us security to travel to the site as well as while we were on the site, a squad of Lithuanians. Few realize that Lithuania has been a dominant country at times in its past. With its small size and long slumber while one of the Silently Swallowed Republics of the Union of Silently Swallowed Republics its role in history is mostly forgotten. However, Lithuania is also a member of the ISAF team in Afghanistan.
Back in June we had visitors from Virginia drop in to see the Herat University Women's Dorm project site. They are from a "sister" district. At the time these visitors arrived there were 43 different Corps Districts of which three districts operated in Afghanistan. This seems a bit redundant until you realize that each has a different mission. The two in-country districts, TAS and TAN, have since combined into TAA, which is responsible for the day-to-day projects being constructed that are all scheduled to be complete by December of 2014. The District that these visitors were from, TAM, is responsible for those projects that could last longer than December 2014 and are funded by a different source.
One of the things we discussed while they were in town is an idea that many times the competitive nature of Corps Districts is readily apparent. I witnessed this first hand in my first role when I had a chance to ask a question of the Deputy Commander of the Savannah District a question that no one in the Mobile District had been able to answer for me. He in turn asked his Chief of Construction and relayed the answer he received to me. After the third time of me telling the Chief (through the Deputy) that he wasn't answering my question, that Chief emailed my Chief of Construction and asked why I was bothering him. In short, he couldn't answer my question and it was making him look bad to his boss so he tried to make me look bad to mine. I was told that we would chalk this up to my not knowing better than to ask another district and I had a "free pass" on the matter.
This bothered me on multiple levels. First of all, if there is an answer to a question it should be shared amongst all who may have the need to know the answer. It isn't a matter of "we" know and "they" don't, we are all "we." Second, what I really pointed out was that no one knew what I was asking, so neither District had the answer. In other words I was pointing out not only that "we" didn't know but that "they" didn't know either. Third, I was being told that I should have known better than the ask every source that may have a potential answer for that answer, choosing instead to keep asking the same people who didn't know the answer the first time. I'm a big fan of solving the problem at the lowest level possible, but by definition that entails finding the lowest level possible to solve the problem. Clearly I had not found the lowest level possible yet. Last, I still never got the answer to my question.
What I did learn is that there is a stupid mentality, which I refuse to perpetuate, of District-centric knowledge storage. There are classes, programs, and centers of the Corps designed specifically for the sharing of information, I refuse to allow them to do all the work. If I have an opportunity to share or pick up something from someone I do not care if it is supposed to be shared, I only care if it is right.
This concept was bandied about with the TAM guys to include the anecdotal internal discussion about how "those guys are idiots." Until you meet someone different from yourself, whether by training, education, geographic district assignment, or any other distinction those "others" are often considered to be idiots. Once you have met them you discover that they are just like you. They cease to be idiots and become acquaintances. Sometimes even friends, most likely they can become a source of information that may help answer a question no one around you knows the answer to.
As the visitors left, of course we all said, "Nice to meet you idiots!" However, the subject at hand was my visit to Chaghcharan with the Lithuanians. I've detailed before the difficulties in communicating with non-English speaking team members. I'm sure I will do it again. On this day, I had a frighteningly similar conversation with the Lithuanians that paralleled my previous conversation.
No matter where you go, no matter who you are, no matter what language you speak, everyone's an idiot until you get to know them. At which point you regret ever having labeled them as such and simply call them what we should have to start with, friend.