This I believe: when people find their commonalities they can get along and become friends.
In 2002, I was stationed at a firebase in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda had invaded the country a decade before and had imposed their fundamentalist ideas on the local Pashtoon people. We were there to gain back their freedom. I knew we had to win their hearts as well as their minds—but this would not be easy. As Christians (Catholic, Mormon, and Protestant), we were considered infidels.
In January of that year, al-Qaeda destroyed the mosque where the villagers worshiped. Our unit offered to help rebuild the mosque, but our senior interpreter, Abdul Hajji, discouraged the plan. He did not want infidels building their place of worship.
Abdul and I discussed other possibilities, including keeping infidels, us, away from the mosque, especially after it was built. We could accidently desecrate it with thoughtless acts. I told Abdul we were the same: we both believed in strong family, we both honored the laws of Moses, and we both prayed to the same God.
Abdul asked, “Do you pray to Allah?”
I responded, “I pray to the God of Abraham.” Abdul nodded his head. We had found our commonality, and the mosque project began.
We paid a local architect to design the mosque and local laborers to build it. We purchased all of the materials, the bricks and logs, from local suppliers. Soldiers from the 101st Airborne were assigned to provide security and support. By working together, the infidels and the Pashtoons, we replaced the destroyed mosque and repaired the damage al-Qaeda had done to the community.
Several times a week al-Qaeda fired on our unit. Many of their rockets landed in the farmers’ fields around us and even crashed through their roofs, landing in their homes—often without exploding.
Our executive officer, “the Captain,” who in real life is a farmer from Idaho, had an idea. He wanted to destroy all of the unexploded rockets in the surrounding fields. So the Captain went from house to house, asking if the family had unexploded bombs or rockets in their homes or fields and offered to destroy the ordnance to keep the children safe.
The Pashtoon people were so pleased they began coming to the firebase gate, asking for the Captain and showing him where rockets were located, allowing us to destroy the explosives. Soon, all of the loose ordnance was destroyed. We had worked together to protect their children.
I found commonality with our interpreter, Abdul. The Captain found it with the fathers of the children around our base, allowing us to accomplish our goal of helping the people of Afghanistan.
I believe that God has placed each of us on this earth with a mission, part of which is to get along with our brothers and sisters, no matter what their creed or culture. In working with people and soldiers all over the world, I have seen time and again that when people find their commonalities, they are more likely to come together and become friends, even under the most stressful conditions.
Sergeant Major Larry Chaston (Ret.) is a Vietnam veteran (USMC, 1st ANGLICO) and an Afghanistan veteran (U.S. Army, 19th Special Forces) with over forty years in active duty and National Guard service. In civilian life, he is an engineer, installing robotics. Sergeant Major Chaston and his wife, Judy, have been married for forty-two years. They have six children and seventeen grandchildren.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.