02/18/07 — Air Force captain tells stories of Afghanistan

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Air Force captain tells stories of Afghanistan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 18, 2007 2:06 AM

Ted Janicki didn't have to go to the desert -- the Air Force captain already had two missions to tend to in Wayne County.

A member of the 916th Air Refueling Wing and an assistant professor at Mount Olive College, he would have been satisfied serving his country and the next generation of scholars right here at home -- if the people of Afghanistan didn't need him more.

Janicki volunteered for his first deployment last summer. The friends and family he had left behind weighed heavy on his mind.

But he had no idea that letters and cards from students and colleagues back home would give him the strength to effect change in a brand new democracy.

"When I left, the reason I went was because I was told it was a difference-making assignment," Janicki said. "I felt I needed to give back."

And he has.

So when he took a few hours during his 15-day leave to speak to a crowd of 100-plus friends, family members and students at MOC Friday afternoon, standing ovations, 'Welcome Home' signs and yellow ribbons were commonplace inside Raper Hall -- a hero's welcome for a teacher who, now, is busy inspiring the Afghanistan National Army and police to secure their new state against terrorism and tyranny.

"When we came in, they had never even seen a computer before," Janicki told the crowd. "So I took what I knew, sat down with my interpreter for a month and we came up with a class."

His lesson plan has since gone national. These days, Afghan soldiers and police are busy learning how to operate technology they did not know existed until American forces removed the Taliban from power after Sept. 11, 2001.

But Janicki said teaching a class similar to the one he leads in Mount Olive is only half the battle.

"Many of the people you meet and a majority of the army and police force are illiterate," he said. "So you have to really work hard to accomplish the mission."

That mission, he added, includes combat training, too.

"Our goal is to win over the people so that they support the new government," he said. "We want them to be able to sustain their new democracy."

Part of winning over the public is glossing over painful memories and replacing them with hope -- building schools for young Afghan girls, distributing school supplies and rebuilding infrastructure.

"We're talking about the fourth poorest country in the world," he said. "They don't even have roads."

With the help of the United Nations, Janicki said he "has seen with his own eyes" the progress the United States-led coalition has made in the country.

Few attacks have been reported within the country lately, the name Osama bin Laden is hardly spoken.

"I think they have moved past that," Janicki said. "They are ready to move on."

"Iraq and Afghanistan are two different places, but a lot of people lump them together," he added. "People forget that we're doing very good things in Afghanistan. We've made tremendous progress."

Still, there is work left to do.

And in a few days, Janicki will go back to help continue efforts to make a prosperous Afghanistan a reality.

"One of the major problems is drugs," he said, adding poppy plants are the country's cash crop and other plants simply cannot thrive in the desert soil and conditions there. "We can't just destroy the crops because then they would probably become the poorest country in the world."

Janicki said efforts to identify other cash-crops that might survive the 100-degree summer days, negative-degree winter nights and "desert dust" are underway.

A campaign to better educate the leaders and children of the country is, too.

And while the road to success will likely be a long and trying one, he doesn't mind the challenge.

"We're making their lives better every day," Janicki said. "When we removed the Taliban, we gave them a choice. Many are now taking it."

The presence of women in a new Parliament, laughter-filled soccer games throughout the country and increased communication between Afghan and Pakistani officials is proof of that, he added.

Freedom is desired and the pursuit of it relentless.

"We still have work to do," he said. "This was probably the fastest political change, perhaps, that has ever happened in this world."

And during the nights he will spend there for the next six months, Janicki said he will continue to draw confidence in Afghanistan from those he will return to next fall -- the family members, friends and MOC students and faculty he draws inspiration from.

"It's going to be really busy," he said. "I can't wait to come back home."