A hail of bullets rained down from the skies overhead, hitting the ground in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The rapid-fire artillery sounds filled my ears as I stood still underneath the small embassy awning.
Naively, I didn’t know that bullets fired into the air could travel up to a mile high. Then, depending on the angle they were fired at and their aerodynamics, anyone hit in the embassy courtyard would be dead.
Standing in front of the embassy, I could feel the tightness in my quadriceps from the fear.
“Teacher,” one of my Afghan workshop participants shouted to me, “don’t stand in front of the embassy! Get to the bomb shelter! We’re being attacked!”
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It was lunchtime on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in 2006. I was in Kabul for the third time, and it was my final day of the professional leadership development training I conducted before the holiday weekend.
Twenty-four Afghans successfully completed my two-week workshops. They were to receive a certificate of completion during a ceremony with an embassy official present.
To celebrate, we planned to have local cuisine together in an Army “hooch” (a temporary shelter), where the cuisine was served, have some cake, and play some Afghan music.
The successes of my previous two visits for training prompted the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to ask me to come back again to provide another series of workshops for the locally engaged staff, formerly referred to as “Foreign Service nationals.”
The workshops included basic and advanced communications skills training, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills. I also offered professional one-on-one or small group coaching for Afghans who needed extra help with how to understand—and to get along with—their American diplomat bosses.
My days at the embassy compound started with a 7 a.m. breakfast. I went early to see our U.S. troops coming in to eat after staying out all night in the mountains fighting the Taliban.
The men, most of them no more than 19 to 21 years of age, were dusty-looking, with tired faces. After eating and a few hours of shut-eye, the troops went back to fighting.