Once I finished laughing at myself (I was thinking of the look on my face) I said “This is important. Did he say ‘some mines” or ‘some more mines’?” The interpreter turned to the farmer and then yelled up to me “He said some more mines. But you should be OK, if you stay on the path.”
The “path” was not as wide as my size 12 boots. Putting aside the thought “this would be a really stupid way to die”, I managed to make the last 35 meters or so up the cliff-side. Why did the farmer warn me? Because some tidewater Virginians had towed an old Soviet tractor that had gotten stuck in his village.
Late 2004, I was the CJTF Eagle Civil Affairs Officer, and I was with a squad of Virginia Army National Guard as they visited Ashrafkhel, in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. One of the men in the village pointed out the small cliffs near the Panjshir River and said that some suspicious people had been up there a couple of nights ago. Half the squad swarmed up the two paths nearest where the man had pointed. Thinking I was clever, I took a path over to the north of where everyone else was going up, to keep an eye on things. Halfway up, I heard the interpreter yell up to me “He says the weather may have uncovered some (unintelligible) mines.”
So I was able to avoid stomping on old Taliban or Northern Alliance mines, join the Virginians and find evidence that someone had been tinkering with things that go boom.
Why did these people help us? When we rolled in to town, they looked like most of the people in the area. Thinking things like “Now what?” “These guys, again?” “Oh boy, the circus is in town!” The squad leader asked the first man we spoke to “how is the tractor doing?” The man’s face lit up and he said something to the effect of “Oh, it is you guys! The ones who helped us!” The month before, this same squad had rolled through and used their HMMWVs to pull the village’s only tractor (an old Soviet model) out of a ditch. No doors kicked in, no searches, no swaggering around acting tough and such. Just some farm boys helping out other farmers. We had a nice chat about how the old tractor was now kaputt, but they were hoping to get a new one soon. That was the point when someone joined us and mentioned where the naughty folks had been hanging out.
Some number of hours later, when my sphincter had finally unclenched, I reported everything to the Ops Officer. I even had the insight to mention how this was a nice contrast to the company of Airborne guys that had caused quite a stir booting in doors and barging through houses in a village to the north, a while back. But it took reading various police misconduct stories to make the connection here at home.
Gaining trust, when you are seen as (or actually are) outsiders, armed and seemingly unaccountable to anyone, can be difficult. It takes restraint. When faced with intransigent, maybe even sullen and uncooperative people, it can be very be very difficult to not get impatient and resort to “tell me what I want to know/comply/obey!” It also takes time. If you roll up and say “trust me”, most people are going to reflexively go on guard.
The good will many police departments had years back, was earned over a long time. It probably arose, in part, from having the same beat cops around. They got to know you, and you got to see they were not just interested in hassling you, writing citations or getting in a bust right at the end of a shift for some sweet overtime.
To rebuild the trust lost by many departments (primarily during the Drug War) from property grabbing to door busting to stop and frisk, it will take restraint and time. We need cops who help a drunk get home from the bus stop or train station, call for a wrecker for a broken down car and waits until it shows up, stop in and talk to store owners, bar tenders and other people in the neighborhood and then amiably go on their way. Rather than act like an occupying army, pull a tractor out of a ditch.