News: Breaking bread key to building trust between Afghans, Marines
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan – “Shana ba shana” is a Dari saying that Sgt. Christopher Scott has heard since he arrived here in December 2011. The saying translates to shoulder-to-shoulder. Afghan forces say it’s a way to describe someone’s work ethic and shows the effort they put in with others.
For Scott, a logistics advisor with the Embedded Training Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, it means taking a night off from the gym to spend time with his Afghan allies.
“I’ll take my personal time to come over and hangout, watch television and just talk to them,” said Scott, from Ogdensburg, N.Y.
About once a month Scott sits down with the Afghan soldiers he trains and serves alongside with to eat a meal and drink chai tea. Sometimes it’s only Scott. Other times it’s an entire squad of Marines.
Scott said he sees the time as more than TV and food, but as part of his job and dedication to the Afghans he works with.
He said finding ways to build rapport with the Afghan soldiers is very important in order to attain their trust. He recalled something he learned in advisor training group; the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
With that piece of advice in mind, Scott began putting in more than the hours at work he was required to.
Scott also participated in occasional friendly games of volleyball and invited the Afghans to eat with him at the mess hall.
“Something that is everyday to us, is something special to them,” Scott said.
The idea of face time with the people Scott lives and works with is not new. His family emphasized eating meals together growing up, and it’s something he’s trying to continue with his wife Courtney and 16-month-old son Evan.
“My family is very family-oriented and we do a lot of stuff together,” Scott said. “Family time is when you talk about your day. Without that, you don’t have a feeling for what’s going on with the people around you.”
Scott’s dedication to get to know his Afghan counterparts did not go unnoticed.
“I’ve been familiar with Marines for two and a half years and I’ve never seen a guy like Sergeant Scott,” said ANA 1st Sgt. Miralam, the logistics chief with 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, through a Dari to English linguist interpreter.
Scott works closely with Miralam and other Afghans in their logistics section, and they share a meal together at least once a month.
“I wish I could invite him to my home,” Miralam said with a smile. “He helps us a lot, and he works with us shana ba shana.”
Scott said it’s the willingness to partake in their customs and invest time with the Afghans that helped him.
“When you take extra time and learn some of the language and then apply it, even as far as simple greetings with the soldiers, they see that, and it shows them that you are putting in your time to understand them better,” Scott said.
After eating, Scott often stays and hangs out with the Afghan soldiers. They watch everything from news to movies and game shows. Often the shows are in Dari, Pashtu or Farsi, but the language barrier doesn’t keep them from enjoying each other’s company.
“Every so often they’ll show a movie in English with the translation underneath,” recalled Scott. “That’s really nice because then we can all sit and enjoy the movie together.”
They will also watch a candid camera show that pulls pranks on unsuspecting bystanders. The show has very few words and mostly uses the actors to explain the prank by actions, allowing both Afghan soldiers and Marines to understand the plot.
Last time Scott visited, this show aired after dinner. Scott sat with Miralam and laughed as people on the show ate disgusting ice cream, the pictures on screen explaining better than a translator.
Scott thanked his generous hosts when the show was over. He made plans to see Miralam tomorrow about a logistic issue and politely said goodnight. As he stepped out from their tent, he was shocked to realize the sun had set long ago.
“I didn’t realize we stayed that late,” Scott said with a grin. “Sometimes that happens. I’m just enjoying myself with them and don’t realize it.”
Scott said finding ways to connect with the Afghans on a closer level, pays off with friendship and their trust.
“You get to know the individuals you’re working with,” Scott said. “I show (the Afghans) that I care about them more than just military to military.”
Scott continues to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghans, or shana ba shana, as he carries on his mission of training the soldiers.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is part of Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.