ZARANJ, Afghanistan - Despite all the bad things that can happen during a deployment, Marine Corps Col. Michael Gann, the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) operations officer for Afghan National Security Forces Development stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said his experiences in Afghanistan have taught him to never forget the simple things in life.
Gann and his men were awaiting a return flight to Camp Leatherneck after completing a mission in Zaranj when he noticed a couple of Afghan civilians had arrived at the airfield. It was a Friday morning, so it was a holiday. There was a little girl with them. Gann said he was standing there in all of his battle gear when the little girl just started walking toward him. She wasn’t the least bit deterred by his intimidating appearance. Gann slowly squatted down and held out his hand to her. She fearlessly grabbed ahold of it and smiled up at him.
“She didn’t know the difference between good, bad or evil,” Gann explained, recollecting his awe at the fearlessness of the young girl. “And I thought, as cynical as I’d become in this deployment from seeing all the bad things that happen, here was a kind of situation that gave me pause to reconsider a bit.”
Gann has been on numerous deployments since joining the Marine Corps Jan. 10, 1983. He’s been deployed to Somalia, Iraq, Japan and various other locations throughout the world. He said his deployment to Afghanistan had a different dynamic than his previous ones.
“In the past, it was somewhat kinetic, this not so much,” said Gann. “There was a lot more interaction on my part with the various entities out there in the battle space. My experiences pretty much ran the gamut.”
He said there’s been a lot accomplished in regard to preparing the Afghans on how to defend their country against the Taliban.
“When we got here there was absolutely zero involvement with the Afghans in the process,” said Gann. “We knew that between now and 2014 we had to get those guys on board. They had to start taking ownership of the things happening here on a day to day basis.”
He’s witnessed a vast improvement in the way Afghan leaders are preparing for the future.
“We have started getting them engaged in planning for their future,” he said. “We’ve gotten them out of that mindset where they’re just worried about the next day or the next week. They’ve started to think about what it’s going to be like when we roll out of here.”
Gunnery Sgt. Barry Huffman, a reports chief for ANSF Development with II MEF (Fwd) who is stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said Gann exemplifies what it means to be a good leader.
“He is very disciplined,” said Huffman. “There are times when he can be demanding, but he encourages you to do your best and keeps you accountable for your actions.”
Although he will always value the experiences he gained while deployed to Afghanistan, every day was a challenge in its own way, Gann said.
“There’s no short days when you’re deployed,” he said. “Just short nights.”