Danielle Bayar: Part 1

Danielle deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and Uganda in 2009 and worked directly with Civil Affairs teams. She deployed to Afghanistan again in 2012 and worked with a Cultural Support Team. In part 1 of our interview, she talks about the challenges of working with Afghan civilians during her first deployment and of training the Ugandan army in Civil Affairs on her second deployment.


Interview conducted on March 15, 2015 over the phone

Present: Richard Hayden and Danielle Bayar

Transcribed by Richard Hayden


Richard Hayden: What is your full name?

Danielle Bayar: Danielle Lara Bayar.

RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?

DB: US Army Reserve from 2003 to the present, actually.

RH: What is your rank?

DB: I’m a Staff Sergeant right now.

RH: What’s your MOS?

DB: I started as a 38B [spoken as thirty-eight Bravo] which is Civil Affairs. Currently I am with an intel unit in the process of trying to re-class. We’ll see if that happens.

RH: When you were a 38B what was your unit?

DB: The 411th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Danbury, Connecticut.

RH: What motivated you to join the military?

DB: That’s a complicated question. I guess I never found a satisfactory answer to it. I was fascinated with it since I was a kid. My dad went to West Point. It gave me the ability to communicate with him as a person. I’ve always had a sense of adventure. Also, the desire to want to do something greater than myself, to serve my country – all the typical things that motivate young people to join. Money wasn’t really a factor in it for me. Also the values. That sort of appealed to me.

So I joined the Reserves thinking that if I like it I can always go active duty. I can always do more. If I don’t like it then it’s just a weekend a month. [laughs] And it was something to do out of college.

RH: Why did you pick the Army?

DB: Actually I thought about joining the Marines first. The Marines were kind of my first military love. But when I was looking at which job appealed to me, I did some research and I found Civil Affairs. That was the job that related to my background and I could see turning that into a career as a civilian in the government or something like that.

I wanted to join Civil Affairs in the Marines. [laughs] My Marine recruiter didn’t seem to know what Civil Affairs was. The Marines have Civil Affairs but at the time – 2003 – I guess they didn’t have quite as good a unit so he thought I was talking about public affairs. [laughs] It didn’t seem to be a match. Then I looked at the Army National Guard and figured out they didn’t have Civil Affairs and the only branch that had Civil Affairs was the US Army Reserve so I joined that.

RH: How did your family feel about your decision?

DB: My dad was pretty supportive. I think he was happy about it. My mom, less so. I think that she was at least happy I finished college first. There was a time when I thought I might just go and do the Army first and then finish college later but she talked me out of that. I guess in some ways it was a compromise solution. I think over time she got used to the idea. They were both very supportive when I was going through my training and deployment.

RH: Where were you on September 11th?

DB: I was in college. I was at Barnard College in New York City on about 116th Street, the top of Manhattan. I was on my way to an early morning swim class when I heard about it.

RH: Do you have any specific memories of that day?

DB: Yes. I remember the general atmosphere of, I don’t want to call it panic, but everyone sort of knew that this was a game changer, that our world would not be the same after this. I remember seeing dust overhead in Manhattan. I remember we had some teachers who had to move in with the students overnight because the bridges and tunnels were closed. I had the sense that we were on lock down and that war had come to New York, if not the country, and things were going to be different going forward. That was my general impression from 9/11.

I thought about walking downtown but for some reason I didn’t. Sometimes I wish I would have. I used to go down to the World Trade Center quite often actually when I was applying for that Marine officer program. The recruiting office was right outside of the World Trade Center. I remember always looking up at them and thinking how huge they were. I think I remember hearing they were their own zip code and so the idea that they’re no longer standing still strikes me as kind of surreal.

RH: Where did you go to boot camp?

DB: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

RH: What was your follow up training like?

DB: It was individual training for us. For the Civil Affairs soldiers, we go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Basic training was nine weeks. My AIT as we call it was about twelve weeks. My AIT I think was much more difficult than my basic training. I was actually rather demoralized for the first couple of weeks at AIT. Typically AIT is easier than basic so everyone was looking forward to getting a little bit of a break and focusing more on professional development than the basics of soldiering and that drill Sergeant dynamic. Our AIT was quite different. I finally got into the right headspace and got through it but it was a hard reality. [laughs]

RH: What is Civil Affairs exactly? What do you do?

DB: We are the soldiers who are supposed to interact with the host nation government officials and the local population to achieve the commander’s intent. So that could mean a number of things. That could mean working with the local government to distribute humanitarian assistance, to rebuild infrastructure or to build it for the first time, to help in the process of governing. It could mean interacting with the normal Iraqis or Afghans, to hear concerns and how to address them, to help build their faith in local government and police forces. So there’s capacity building elements and there’s humanitarian elements. Relationship building is a big component of it. That’s more or less what Civil Affairs does. I think of it as the liberal arts unit of the Army.

RH: Where did you deploy to?

DB: My first deployment was to Afghanistan in 2006 to 2007. I was applying to be part of a Civil Affairs team on the provincial Ghazni province. I also deployed to Uganda as a Civil Affairs Sergeant in 2009 to 2010. And I did another deployment to Afghanistan in 2012. That’s a whole different story. That was with something called the Cultural Support Team.

DB: It was the United States Army Special Operations Command.

RH: Let’s talk a little bit about your deployment to Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. What was the specific mission of your unit?

DB: As the Civil Affairs component of the PR team, we really focused on trying to strengthen the provincial government and to help them build ties with the local population. It was kind of a hearts and minds component that you sometimes hear about in regards to the Global War on Terror. So what does that actually entail? You did assessments. You’d go to villages and talk with the local elders and the leaders and you try to get a sense of what their priorities were for their people, what their concerns were. But you didn’t do that in a vacuum. Often you would go out with the local police chief or the department head of agriculture and work together on those kinds of missions. We had projects. For example, the Taliban. Let’s say they attacked a school and they destroyed the windows or maybe a wall or something, we would do a site assessment and we would assess the position of that school. That kind of thing.

I think there were a couple of times where we would use our assets to deliver school supplies to villages in the remote parts of the province. Otherwise they would not have gotten those supplies from the head of the province because the roads were not passable either due to weather or due to security concerns. Humanitarian assistance, especially during the winters in Ghazni which are quite harsh, we would push humanitarian assistance out to local officials to help their populace with humanitarian needs. So that kind of thing.

RH: When you spoke with local Afghani leadership, what did they express were their needs or their biggest concerns?

DB: Security obviously was foremost on everyone’s minds. This was back in 2006, 2007 and the Taliban insurgency hadn’t quite reached the climax that I believe it did a couple years later. It was sort of a low rumbling. They weren’t really in Ghazni province. Ghazni province is quite desert. There were some areas that were primarily Hazaran that I think were more or less stable. But there were certainly areas further south that were primarily Pashtun and that I believe were transit points for insurgents. Those areas were difficult for us to access, even back then. I believe in later years many of them became hotbeds. I can think of an example – I can’t remember the name of the village – we spent a considerable amount of time, money and effort there and a few years later I think it pretty much completely fell to the Taliban. I don’t know what the status is now. So security was an underlying, ever-present concern.

And the basics of life: basic infrastructure, schools, wells, roads and karizes. These were the irrigation systems that they used there and I think we had some controversy with local officials about what to do, if at all, with funds for kariz cleaning and rehabilitation projects. I guess we felt that this was something they would do anyways as members of their community and I guess they wanted some financial assistance with that. I can’t remember how that was resolved but these were the kind of conversations that we would have.

There were also concerns with providing employment for young men, especially during the fighting season – the fighting season being the warm months. These were the projects that would help put young men to work, especially in areas that were considered more at risk because we knew that if we didn’t come to them with the opportunity to make a living one way, someone else could come to them with the opportunity to make some money by planting an IED or something. The security tied in with development concerns. They were very intricately linked.

Women’s rights was a concern. It was an issue. It continues to be, of course. I worked with the Ghazni Province Department of Women’s Affairs. Actually, it was headed by a woman but her two deputies were the ones that I worked with the most. I kind of jokingly called them my ladies men. [RH laughs] Not to their face. I got a little bit of money to do a local women’s rights conference and to educate the local religious leaders especially on what the Koran actually said about women and what their rights were and how they should be educated and to help spread that message. These are some of the things that we worked with.

RH: When you first got there, what was your initial impression of Afghanistan like?

DB: It’s hard to put into words. It was just so profoundly different. I remember going out on our first mission and seeing a little kid on the side of the road give us a thumbs up. I was driving one of the vehicles past and this kid’s waving and smiling and being supportive. It felt really good. It felt like, “Oh, I’m finally here doing the job, representing the United States in uniform.” Of course later on through different deployments and in different areas you did not always get such a warm welcome. [laughs] But I remember that first patrol feeling proud that I was part of the mission and feeling that the Afghan populace was at least in part supportive of that mission. And I’m sure the same thing is true today. They’re probably tired of our presence there but I’m sure it’s a mixed picture.

RH: Did you interact with all levels of Afghan society?

DB: I would say so. Personally during the missions where we were delivering humanitarian assistance, we called them MEDCAPs and VETCAP. A MEDCAP would be a medical humanitarian civic action and a VETCAP was a veterinary civic action. That entailed handing out humanitarian assistance or veterinary assistance to the local populace. So for veterinary projects we would help people hold down their goats while they got a vaccination or something. For humanitarian assistance projects it could be unloading bags of beans and rice and school supplies.

During the course of those projects typically we would set up somewhere, maybe a school compound for a day, and people from the surrounding areas would come and see us and bring their animals or they would come themselves to collect assistance. We would have soldiers there who were veterinarians or who were doctors or medics coming to see people and treat them. So during these projects we did very much get to meet with everyday Afghans and converse with them as best we could, trying to get a sense of what was going on in their neighborhoods and what their concerns were. That kind of thing. My work as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team also entailed working with the governor, working with the heads of the Department of Education and Women’s Affairs and social services. I consider myself very fortunate on that first deployment. We did get to work with quite a section of people.

RH: Interesting. Are there any particular Afghans that stick out? Specifically.

DB: I’m trying to remember. It was many years ago.

RH: If there’s one that you had a particularly productive relationship with or one that sticks out in your mind.

DB: There’s so many. They stick out in different ways. We had an interpreter who was very nice, very intelligent, spoke excellent English. I remember he was displeased when I cut my hair short. [laughs] Little stuff like that. I guess the little stuff sticks out in my mind because he was killed in one of our missions. I was not on that mission but yeah, he didn’t come back from that one. Little stuff like that.

As a matter of fact, many of the interpreters I met in 2006 and 2007 I would hear in later years about them being killed. Some of them were quite young. I think that he was twenty-one when we worked with him. Another had the nickname Smiley. As you can imagine he had a great smile. I heard a year of two later that he had been caught in a Taliban checkpoint and tortured before he was killed. So you remember the faces. You remember the little things about them.

I remember the head of the Education Department. Her name was Fatima. She spoke pretty good English and was very intelligent. Sometimes though you could tell she was just so frustrated. She really wanted to try to change things. I’m sure she was under a lot of pressures that I can only begin to understand. And my ladies man [laughs] who worked at the Women’s Affairs Department. He was an older guy, I don’t know, sixties or seventies. It can be hard to tell an Afghan’s age sometimes. But he had been there with the mujahedeen and fought the Russians and everything but he was so gentle and had such a gentle way about him. He had a true passion for women’s rights. I just remember being really impressed with him. Things like that.

RH: Did you have any contact with the Taliban?

DB: [laughs] I’m sure I spoke to a few of them. Whether they were confirmed Taliban or not at that time I don’t recall. But probably in some of our dealings with local leaders from certain districts it’s pretty safe to say. Our understanding was that probably at least a few of them were the Taliban. That would be the extent of it probably on that deployment.

RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment, the beginning, the middle or the end?

DB: It’s hard to say. I think the end was the easiest. We spent three hundred and sixty-five or so days downrange so the entire deployment was about sixteen months if include the train ups and the redeployment. By about six months in, nine months in, you get into the swing of things. You hit your stride. I think that the beginning was very challenging. It’s such a steep learning curve and it’s sink or swim. Especially on the first deployment when you really are learning the ropes. It’s quite challenging. The middle has its own set of challenges, especially on a longer deployment. In the middle you’ve learned a lot but the end is not quite in sight yet. You have to battle a sort of mental fatigue. Oh my God. “How many more weeks am I going to be doing laundry duty?” or going on patrols early in the morning or just all the chores [laughs] of deployment. You’re still six months out from being able to come home. I’d say the beginning and the middle were challenging in different ways.

I’d say the end was probably the least challenging but it also had its own difficulties. You actually reach a point where you have a certain reluctance to leave because you have equity now in what happens in that particular province in that small part of the world. You’ve built relationships now with those people and when you can move over to the next team, they have to go through those relationships all over again. And when their deployment’s over, there probably will be a part of them that doesn’t want to leave either. That’s just the nature of the game, I guess.

RH: Do you feel that, for Civil Affairs, the length of your deployment was adequate or could you have gone a little longer? Should you have gone a little longer? Should you have gone home earlier?

DB: I’m sure people well above my paygrade have more educated answers to that [laughs] but I almost feel that longer deployments for Civil Affairs might not be a terrible idea in the same way that the State Department would be a two year tour somewhere. Because you spend you first year learning your job and you really hit your stride the second year. The second year is when you really get a lot of things done. Even a third year. That being said, even in the State Department, if you’re deployed to a combat zone like Iraq or Afghanistan even today you have a one-year tour and that’s considered a hardship tour. So there’s trade-offs. You have the mental strain of the soldiers to consider but at the same time you also have to worry about quality of performance. I feel with Civil Affairs, our ability to perform a lot of it is predicated on how we establish that rapport, how well we know the local dynamics. I think there would be some benefits perhaps to having longer tours but the drawback would be can the soldiers and, equally as important, can their families withstand that sort of deployment? I can understand the reason for not wanting to do that.

RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?

DB: Hearing about the deaths of other people in our unit who had been killed. That was definitely very challenging and very sobering. And then next to that, I would say seeing the other people suffering from trauma. Having to go through this deployment and not quite knowing how to reach out and help them.

And then I think about that middle portion of deployment where you’re so ready to be done with it. [laughs] You’re four to six months away from coming home. That has its own mental challenge. It is perhaps difficult to appreciate if you’ve never deployed in that environment. You really are a prisoner on that Forward Operating Base. There are only so many places you can walk. It’s very different from Bagram. Even back in ’06, ’07 Bagram was pretty well built up but in the Forward Operating Bases, there are not a lot of places to go. You get a little stir crazy. I know some of our colleagues from the PRT lived on the remote site in Buldak  before that was built up a lot more. I know that they had a lot of mental issues being stuck out there for prolonged periods. So there’s definitely a lot of non-combat stresses during deployments.

RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment besides from those that talked about already?

DB: Let me see. I remember working on a project with the director of education of the province. We were both very enthused about this project. We were going to try and get school tents out to all the different districts in Ghazni province, rudimentary shelter for classes in extreme heat or maybe even during extreme cold. I can’t recall if the tents were of such a quality that they would have withstood that kind of winter. But in any event, it helped students get the basics in place so that they could succeed.

I remember speaking with one of our interpreters about this project and I remember him telling me, “Come back to Ghazni province in about a year and try to find these tents that you’ve pushed out into different districts and I bet you, you won’t find even one of them.” To this day I still think about that. I wonder if I went back to Ghazni province if I would find any of the tents. And who would I find them with? And what are they being used for? I suspect that what he said had a lot of truth to it and it’s probably truer in the larger context of the assistance that we’ve provided over the last decade or so. More than a decade at this point in Afghanistan. I’m sure that there are people asking similar questions about where has all the money gone and has it been worth it? Those are important questions to ask.

RH: Alright, great. Thank you. Let’s move onto your deployment to Uganda in 2009 to 2010. Were you doing Civil Affairs there as well?

[Note: Danielle’s operation in Uganda was not part of the Global War on Terrorism. At the time there were some operations in Africa that contributed to GWOT but this was not one of them. – RH]

DB: Yes I was.

RH: What was the mission of your unit there, specifically?

DB: We were deployed to a part of the country called Karamoja. Karamoja is inhabited by primarily pastoralist societies. These pastoralists fight each other for the possession of cattle. This has been so for decades and centuries, I think. In recent decades the Karamojong – the people who live there – have acquired small arms. Whereas before they would fight each other with bows and arrows, now they were fighting each other with AK-47s. Some of this was bleeding out into other parts of Uganda.

So in response to this, the Ugandan government had deployed to Karamoja to try to disarm the pastoralists. As you can imagine it was not a terribly popular campaign. The Karamojong were not a big fan of this and moreover the Ugandan military had been accused of multiple human rights violations in the process. A pretty big mess all around. We deployed there in a small team, a small Civil Affairs team, to work with the Ugandan military to help them learn how to do civil military relations. We were not part of the disarmament campaign in any way. The Ugandan military had set up their own civil military coordination centers throughout Karamoja. So our job was to liaise with them to build their capacity, to advise them and to see how we can assist them to do civil military operations.

RH: Were there any similarities between working in Uganda and Afghanistan?

DB: Similarities?

RH: Yes. Similarities.

DB: It was a very different deployment. Very different. We lived in a hotel in Moroto which is the capital of the Karamoja region. It was a mainly permissive environment although there was a security incident about halfway through our nine month deployment that involved the ambush of a humanitarian vehicle with several passengers. After that incident our security posture changed somewhat. We were under some risk of being in the line of fire if one group of pastoralists targeted another and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was a constant risk. Highway banditry was also a risk.

But that being said, it really was mostly a permissive environment so obviously that was quite different from Afghanistan. We had civilian vehicles and we had drivers, nothing necessarily up-armored. We were much more free to plan our own operations. We had this small unit. There was maybe six of us, seven of us. We could essentially move as we pleased. That feeling that I was speaking to earlier in Afghanistan of being a prisoner on this Forward Operating Base was much less so in Uganda. I’d say they were fundamentally different deployments, different experiences.

RH: Did you interact a lot with the locals as well?

DB: Yes. That was a big part of the job. We did a lot of interacting and coordinating with the local NGOs that were up there. Also with the United Nations. There was a UN interim office that was up there. Save the Children was up there. Who else? A lot of different groups. Some religious NGOs were up there, I believe. A lot of groups doing veterinary work due to the importance of cattle in that part of the country. Of course we worked with local officials and the local Ugandan soldiers who were running the local civil military operations center.

I wish we had interacted more with the Karamojong. We did interact with them on a few missions but we did not get out into their communities very often. But nevertheless I’d say we interacted with a diverse mixture of people during that mission.

RH: I know that the US military and the Ugandan military are probably starkly different but are there any universal similarities that you noticed?

DB: I would say that the Ugandan military – at least the soldiers that I interacted with – were fairly disciplined, professional. It was a fairly professional operation. Obviously they didn’t match us in terms of resources but I’d say there were a lot of similarities. They were very proud to wear the Ugandan military uniform and I think our ranks were pretty similar. I would respect their officers as officers. I was an NCO so I felt more comfortable interacting with their NCOs. There’s a common military culture that I would say allows us to fit in with each other pretty well.

RH: Are there any Ugandans in particular that stick out?

DB: Let me see. It was more experiences than people I would say. I had to conduct some training for about two-hundred soldiers, I think, one time, on responding to humanitarian crises. It was a really interesting experience teaching Ugandan soldiers. They’re quite eager to learn, quite eager to be receiving training from Americans and very eager to partner with us. They were hungry for information, hungry for opportunity.

I remember speaking to an NCO who was really excited about the idea of being a civil military relations Sergeant because I think that’s an opportunity not many of them had. To be honest with you, I don’t know if it was something that was necessarily considered prestigious in the Ugandan military. It might not be. It might be considered a punishment for all I know. But I remember this particular Sergeant really took to the idea of working in the realm of civil military affairs and was asking me a lot of questions about how he might go abroad, about what the training was all about. It made me appreciate the training I had received and I appreciate the opportunities we have to reach out to sldiers of different nations and kind of show them how this work is done and why it’s important for military operations as a whole, for any military.

RH: Before I move onto your second deployment to Afghanistan, since I’m not entirely familiar with the operations in Uganda, is there anything I left out that is really significant that you want to talk about?

DB: You know, it was interesting because not a lot of Americans know that US soldiers deploy to Africa. I think there’s not as great an understanding of what we do there or what we do when we’re not in a conflict environment per se. I think some of the greatest challenges of that mission was having to repeatedly explain to people what our mission was and why we were there, particularly to humanitarian actors. There was a strong feeling that we should always be in uniform and we did. We did comply with that. We wore the uniform at all times. We made it clear that we were not humanitarians, we were soldiers.

I remember that really opened my eyes to this idea of humanitarian space, how important it is even outside of a conflict zone, to make sure that humanitarians are not confused for military personnel. And I think that’s something the humanitarian community learns at their expense when they are in conflict zones. So it was just a different operating environment. I think the US military does a lot of good outside of conflict zones. I think we have unique capabilities to deliver rapid assistance, for example. My team at one point in Uganda helped respond to a landslide in Bududa, Uganda. We didn’t provide assistance per se but we went there and provided guidance. So that deployment opened my eyes to the opportunities and the challenges of working in a non-combat zone.

Part 2 of Danielle's interview can be found here.