Stillwater News Press

February 27, 2010

From Afghanistan: Army lottery

Col. Gregory Breazile shares his Afghanistan experiences

By Col. Gregory Breazile
Stillwater NewsPress

KABUL, Afghanistan — If you ever visit Afghanistan you'll find a society where, like many developing countries, you've got the privileged few who have money and influence and then you have the masses that live day to day working hard for whatever money they can earn.  

The privileged people are connected with the influential leaders within their government. This class structure disrupts the fair democratic process and provides better opportunities to the chosen few.  This is why the Afghan minister of defense decided to run his own lottery.  

His lottery didn't consist of people paying for tickets with hopes they would earn large sums of money but rather this lottery would determine the assignments for the graduates from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. This academy is considered to be the West Point of Afghanistan. 

The reason they decided to conduct this lottery was to eliminate the chance of nepotism in the assignments process, which has been a problem in the past. The cadets who are accepted to the military academy already have an advanced status in their society as they are all literate and some have a high school education. 

Additionally, when they go through the four-year bachelor’s program they become the elite of the officer corps. The fact is that this will be the second graduating class from the academy and this will be the first time in the history of their army that they have used such a random assignments process. 

I stood and watched as each soldier came forward one at a time to pick their lottery ticket with their assignment on it and I could see the anticipation in their eyes. The mood in the room was upbeat as the crowd of more than 200 cadets was to find out their first duty assignment in front of all of their peers.

As each cadet picked up a folded piece of paper from the pile they would then turn and face their fellow students and read out load their upcoming assignment. Once they announced their assignment the crowd would applaud and cheer for the cadet.

This was an encouraging move forward that demonstrated the Afghan leadership understands they must break the culture of favoritism and create fair and open processes.  The Afghan army invited the media to cover this event and there were six television stations filming this lottery.

I also had the opportunity to talk with Namatula Hakmat, the fist cadet to be assigned to the new 215th Corps in the Helmand Province, and get his thoughts on his assignment. He said, “One of my hopes was to go to a high risk province and apply what I have learned here at the military academy.” 

I asked him why he joined the army and he said, “My family encouraged me. My father and grandfather served in the army.” 

Cadet Hakmat is 25 years old, married and has a 2-year-old daughter. I asked him what his family would think of him being selected to serve in Helmand and he responded, “My family are proud of me and I should serve because it is my obligation to serve my country.” 

I have to say each day that I attend such positive events held by the Afghans I become much more encouraged they may make it out of their current mess. I am realistic about the present situation and the challenges we face each day in our attempt to defeat the insurgents but I am also optimistic about the future as the Afghans demonstrate their willingness to improve their institutions and eliminate unethical practices. 

This lottery was not a gamble for their future but rather a display of justice that will hopefully resonate throughout their country. The Afghan people want justice and they know when things are not fair so this lottery was a good display that their government is taking this issue seriously.

I personally don't ever want to be perceived as being overly optimistic but I can't help being encouraged by these events. In the end, the Afghan people will determine whether we will win or lose this effort in Afghanistan. 

That's why taking measures to earn their trust is so vital to this operation. This lottery was just another small step toward gaining their trust.

Col. Gregory Breazile is the director of communication, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. He is a combat veteran with 26 years of Marine Corps service. He lives in Stillwater.