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I joined the Air Force out of college, after spending my senior year in the ROTC program at Miami University. The Air Force has changed a lot since 2003, and the Public Affairs career field is almost unrecognizable.

On the whole, I tend to think the majority of the changes are for the better. We're more focused on expeditionary warfare, on counterinsurgencies rather than the threat of nuclear war with China or an invasion by North Korea. Seeing as how we're currently engaged in two counterinsurgencies, the changes make sense.

Airmen haven't adapted to the changes as much as I'd like. During the Cold War we had a vast array of experts on the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc countries. Today we still have many of those experts, but the number who can speak intelligently about Arab or South Asian cultures is vastly smaller. One of my goals as an officer is to be seen as an expert, within my field, on those theaters.

Once or twice a month I'll get a call from a lieutenant about to deploy to Afghanistan, who wants to know about the country and the war there. In addition to some actual training materials, I point them toward books and online sites helped educate me.


The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. Filkins, an award-winning New York Times reporter, was one of the few Western reporters to report from Afghanistan before 9/11. The book covers his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and consists of vignettes from both wars. The title comes from a Pakistani militant, who told Filkins that jihad will never end, that it will go on forever until judgement day.

The Middle East Media Research Institute. MEMRI, as it is better known, translates Arab and South Asian media outlets into English, to "bridge the gap" between those societies and the West. In practice, they tend to highlight the inflammatory, racist and violent aspects of Middle Eastern media, and have been accused of harboring a bias. In my opinion, if they have a bias, it's against violent, racist and inflammatory material. A good resource.

The Long War Journal. A website that keeps track of the minutia of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. A good site for getting the day-to-day happenings of the war that don't make the major media outlets.

Not a Good Day to Die, by Sean Naylor. Naylor, a Military Times reporter, spent years reconstructing the story behind the Battle of Takur Ghar, the deadliest engagement of Operation Anaconda. The book provides a unique insight into US special operations forces, their strengths and shortcomings.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Although a work of fiction, The Kite Runner provides a vivid, first-person look at the collapse of Afghanistan in the 1970s, and the brutality of the Soviet invasion. A good book to read if you need a break from the non-fiction.

The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart. Stewart, a Scotsman who later went on to work for the coalition government in Iraq, decided one day shortly after the fall of the Taliban to walk across Afghanistan. Not the safest or wisest of decisions, but he obviously lived and got a good story out of it. Recommended reading, if only to see just how different Afghan culture is from the West. (Side note: I think he made up the dog.)

Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Owen, who fought and died during World War I, is widely considered one of the greatest English war poets. He fought willingly, bravely, and at all times with full knowledge of the horror and wastefulness of war. Insensibility and The Parable of the Old Man and the Young are my favorites.