Culture Shock

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By Brad Bowman

Eric Raisor thought he knew it all. That was before he went to another country.


Raisor enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 2010 and serves with the A. Co 412th CAB as a specialist in the RC-North in Mazar-e Sharif  in northern Afghanistan, .

Raisor said once he traveled outside the United States the culture shock woke him up.

“It was a huge culture shock starting off my military career. I had never been outside the states,” Raisor said. “I was stationed in Germany and then came to Afghanistan. It really kicked in when I came to Afghanistan and it was really hot and there’s nothing out here but mountains.”

Raisor is stationed at an international base comprised of forces from Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Mongolia and Sweden. The RC-North region includes the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-e Pul and Takhar.

“You have a perimeter all the way around the base, it’s six or seven miles wide,” Raisor said. “But basically it’s a tent city with rows and rows of tents.”

Raisor controls and oversees petroleum and supply for ground vehicles and aircraft. He fuels helicopters like Apaches and Chinooks. He also does guard duty around the base.

“We maintain the quality of the fuel and keep the aircraft going as much as possible,” Raisor said. “We will use up to 6,000 gallons of fuel a day and we have to inspect it.”

Afghanistan locals receive pay from the military depending on the volume of fuel they deliver.

“It can get pretty tense sometimes,” Raisor said. “It makes you nervous. The fuel comes in on the nationals’ trucks and they go through a process to make sure the vehicles aren’t equipped with explosives. Sometimes people will argue about what they get paid. They will pick up a wrench or something and you are on your guard. I feel like we are here to restore balance and one thing that comes with that is trusting them. You hear on news about people turning on soldiers, you hear shots in the background or in the distance and it’s almost second nature.”

Past and present pictures of the town Raisor is stationed near in Afghanistan, reflect improvements made by the military. These types of things, the improvements, Raisor said you don’t hear about from the media.

“I love my job and what we are doing. You hear on the news every little bad thing that happens, but you don’t see the good things we do here,” Raisor said. “You don’t see the schools we build, we give jobs to the nationals, not everyone is a terrorist and not everyone here is the Taliban. Most of the people are glad we are here. We generate jobs for them build better facilities. We show them that we care and that we are here to help.”

The military has built roads in places where none existed, according to Raisor. People may live in huge two- or three-bedroom houses in the U.S., but the people there live in mud-clay houses, Raisor said and the poorer people live in houses made of sticks.

“I was on guard duty and some kids walked up to the fence,” Raisor said “They will ask us for bottled water. They will take a bath in a cesspool of water. Their water is putrid and they will take a water bottle and fill it up with the water they bathed in and drink it.”

The soldiers work and engage the local population.

“We take pictures with them, we talk to them and see where they’re from,” Raisor said. “One guy on post here had a college degree and speaks seven different languages and he is dressed in traditional Afghanistan garb. They are not all against us and that is what we have to realize. They are actually pretty fascinating.”

In April, Raisor will come home for 28 days and he can’t wait to get back to Henry County. His days on the base sometimes blur into each other.

“We work in 12-hour or 14-hour shifts  seven days a week and  it pretty much consumes your day,” Raisor said. “After working you can go to the gym, talk to family on the phone or Internet and do it all again the next day. It’s basically like (the movie) Groundhog Day.”

Raisor lives in a tent with 60 other military personnel. On any given day there may not be hot water. He keeps his boots on 98 hours a week whether it is 120 degrees or whether there are 10 inches of snow on the ground.

“Nobody complains. We came to do a mission,” Raisor said. “It’s difficult at times. You feel like you are basically missing out on life back home. I haven’t been home for Christmas in three years. Here you pray for time to fly by fast and when I come home I hope it slows down.”

Raisor misses his grandmother’s cooking — the base has some form of chicken everyday and everyone looks forward to Fridays when they get to have surf and turf on the menu. He can’t wait for the transition of normal, everyday life.

“I am definitely ready to get back to a normal life. I know it will be hard for me to get readjusted. Here you are told when to eat and sleep 24 hours a day and even in garrison you are on a schedule, having that freedom to make your own decisions it will take some time getting used to.”

Many things have changed about Raisor since he enlisted. The military has given him many things he will carry with him throughout life. Some things are good and some haunting.

“I had a chip on my shoulder when I was younger,” Raisor said. “I didn’t have respect for myself or others. I wasn’t confident when I came in. When you are in basic training, you have no voice, no opinion and you have nothing. Things are taken from you— like the things you took for granted and you want them back. Now I am a better person because of it.”

Raisor said patriotism means something different for him now.

“You see the images on television of a set of boots and the American flag, but when you see it in real life it is definitely an image you will remember,” Raisor said. “I was coming back from leave at the end of November. On the way back, I was on a plane and we had to make a stop to pick up some soldiers on our way back to Afghanistan there had been an attack in Kandahar. They asked if we cared if a soldier got a ride with us.”

Raisor said a military van parked next to the plane. A casket was wheeled out with a flag on it.

“Having that casket strapped in there with you on a plane with 100 other soldiers it is a hard image to see and ride with. It is an image you never forget and you realize patriotism means that man gave his life for his country. I respect anyone past or present that raises their right hand and sign (to enlist).”

Raisor and the men in his platoon have a bond built over the two years they have served together. Some of his platoon members plan to meet up when he comes home in April to go to Florida.

“My goal is to do something for veterans in Henry County,” Raisor said. “I want to thank all the people I went to school with or has ever served in the military. It takes a lot to sign your name and raise your right hand.”