A for Athlete



Source: Friday, December 25, 2009 at 1:34am [1]

On Christmas Day, 2009, I am sitting here at work in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (also known as AFG) Flag of Afghanistan. I am in Afghanistan serving in the capacity of a United States Marine, not as the Head Water Polo Coach for the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team. I have been here since the beginning of last month and am missing the entire holiday season. No Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, birthdays, and special events to be spent with my family. I am missing even more of my children's' lives.

I am also saddened by the news I received today. With the help of a linguist, I spoke with Ahmad Shah over the phone, receiving an updated status on compiling all of the information required to obtain passports. Another athlete on the team has passed. He too was an ANA soldier. In particular, he was a commando in the Afghan National Army. He died while serving his country, fighting against the Taliban. And he definitely called the Taliban "The enemy of his country."

Mohibrehman was about 27 years old. Like many Afghans, he did not have a birth certificate. Just an estimate from his family of when he was born. He was from the village of Shahi, in Laghman Province. He was a very reserved man. He remained focus and only spoke when he had something very important to say or a very inquisitive question to ask.

Mohibrehman was a first sergeant in the 201st Commando Kandak. It was the same unit that I mentored while I was in Afghanistan last year. I saw him a few times a week through the course of my duties but it was through the creation of the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team where I really came to know him. He quickly emerged as a natural leader of the team. Just like I would see him training his soldiers through a weapons range, clearing buildings, teaching classes, or leading his company in unit physical training (He was the only leader that I ever saw on the Pol-e-Charki Base leading a platoon size or larger unit in a formation run); he would lead the team during drills, scrimmages, stretching, or dryland training. He always ensured that all of his teammates were ready to practice both mentally and physically, were quiet during instruction, and always asked important questions to ensure that all of his teammates understood what I was trying to communicate.

Prior to the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team, he never swam in a pool before. Mohibrehman never participated in organized sports before. He never encountered the game of water polo. This did not deter him from wanting to excel and become a good athlete and great leader for the team.

Three memories that come to mind are:[]

1. Mohibrehman would make sure all of the athletes of the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team stayed hydrated throughout the day and even made sure that they all ate enough food as the Afghan National Army chow hall on Pol-e-Charki did not always have enough food. As they would walk up the long hill, he would have refilled water bottles that he would make them drink and would always have extra fruit in his cargo pockets. Even in the Commando chow hall, he would make sure all of the athletes were served enough food and ate it all. He would not allow them to drink anything else other than water.

2. I had a problem with an athlete on the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team during the first week of practice. On the third day of practice, I had it with him. He was too disruptive during practice and was a distraction for everyone. At the end of the practice, I told all of the athletes to get out of the water and to line up in groups of five, for some final sprints. As everyone was lining up, this athlete decided to do a cannonball into the water. After he figured out that I was not amused, he quickly got out of the water and in line. After the sprints were completed, but before I could call this athlete over, Mohibrehman came up to me and told me that he would take care of it. Take care of it? What did that mean? Mohibrehman was only a First Sergeant and the athlete that was causing problems was a Captain. Well, I game Mohibrehman a chance and I never had a problem with this athlete. He actually turned out to be one of the biggest assets of the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team.

3. During the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team Tryouts in 2008, he not only made sure that all of the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team athletes stretched and prepared for the tryouts, he directed all of the athletes participating in the tryouts to stretch with the team. He did this knowing that this may reduce the chance that he and the other athletes on the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team would have to make the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team. He also made sure that they were prepared everyday for the tryouts, directing them to stay hydrated and ensured that they ate enough during the day. He even arranged for a place to stay for the athletes who came from 8-10 hours away.

He took the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team and the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team very seriously. Maybe it was because of his natural leadership, seriousness demeanor, it was the first time he was in an organized sport, or because he did not want to lose the opportunity to swim in a pool, spend quality time with his comrades, or be part of a sports team. However, I will not be able to ever ask him questions like these again.

He was a great man and he will be sorely missed, by his family, friends, villagers, Commandos that he led, and by his teammates, both on the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team and by the athletes on the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team. I hope one day I will be able to meet his family and explain to them what I thought about him, my sorrow for their loss, and his contribution to Afghanistan as an athlete and leader of the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team and more importantly, as a hero for his country as a Commando in the Afghan National Army.