The BSO

BSO stands for “Battlespace Owner,” the phrase by which we ETTs referred to the big American unit who operated in our area.  We also used to call that unit “the Coalition,” which was odd and ominous if you think about it.  We were Americans, too, but we strongly identified with the Afghans with whom we lived and adopted their terminology for naming the other Americans in sector.

The BSO commander in Khowst was Glory 6.  I learned a lot from him about combat and Afghans. 

The first thing was to never overreact.  Early on, when our mess hall took a direct hit from a 107mm rocket, I immediately called Glory 6.  “Keep everyone calm and I’ll put some helicopters overhead,” he said quietly.  My gratitude for even this most sensible and obvious bit of advice was palpable. 

Another thing was to milk every situation for its comic potential. “Everything in Afghanistan got a lot easier when I learned to laugh,” was Glory 6’s mantra.  When I emailed him a picture of our destroyed mess hall, a picture that showed pastries and baked goods strewn across the floor, his one-line response was sublime:  “The bastards got the chocolate chip muffins.”

The best thing Glory 6 had going for him was a sense of how to communicate with Afghans.  He had a very measured way of parceling out his words that allowed his interpreters to translate his thoughts into Dari and Pashtu that Afghans could easily absorb and respond to favorably.  One of my strongest memories from Afghanistan is of watching—the only other American in the room—Glory 6 speak to over 100 Pashtun elders in Taliban-ridden Sabari district.  Perfect poise, perfect pitch, no fear.

The final thing was self-reliance.  Glory 6 used to tell the Afghans, “When it gets really really really really bad, I’ll be there for you.  Until then, take care of things yourself.”  It took a while, but eventually I realized that he was talking to me, too.  Those are still words I remember whenever I think about asking anyone for help.    

Glory 6 kept two big guns at Camp Clark for when things got really really really really bad.

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