Vancouver man helps secure Kabul

Civilian career as corrections officer offers valuable experience

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
photoOregon National Guard Staff Sgt. Curtis Sanders of Vancouver and his soldiers patrol a snowy neighborhood in Kabul. He said members of his team hope to provide blankets for nearby refugee camps.

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The top enlisted security official at a U.S. compound in Afghanistan sees his Army assignment as the flip side of his civilian career.

“At home, I supervise inmates,” said Staff Sgt. Curtis Sanders of Vancouver, who is a Multnomah County corrections deputy. “My job back there is to keep bad guys in.

“My job here is to keep bad guys out.”

Sanders is about two months into his deployment with the Oregon National Guard’s 1186th Military Police.

He is the noncommissioned officer in charge of force protection at the New Kabul Compound, a fortified and walled facility near the U.S. Embassy compound. It is one of several coalition bases in Kabul.

Sanders is responsible for a combination of U.S. forces and security contractors, including Afghans. His military police unit controls entry points where Afghans enter the compound, where they work as cooks, interpreters and members of the cleaning staff.

Sanders has overseen an upgrade of communications technology, including surveillance cameras, and he has helped analyze the installation’s weak points.

The staff sergeant also has supervised scores of missions outside the compound foot patrols as well as convoys. While it’s a way to establish a U.S. presence, the patrols also help the soldiers reach out to residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, Sanders said.

The soldiers often donate clothes, candy and school supplies sent from friends and relatives in the U.S.

“The kids love pens,” Sanders said. “A pen means knowledge.”

Erika Stetson, a public-affairs official based in Kabul, recently posted a story about Sanders’ deployment on a military media outlet. Photos taken by Sgt. Catherine Threat were part of the online story package.

One of the photos shows Sanders against the backdrop of a hillside carpeted wall-to-wall with houses. Patrolling Kabul’s dense neighborhoods really makes the soldiers appreciate what they have back home, he said.

(Sanders and his wife, who served as a military dog handler, live in Cascade Park; he is due to return in the fall.)

The photo shows something else interesting. Sanders’ blood type is printed on a band around his helmet. It’s a very practical, just-in-case piece of information.

“It’s for quick identification,” Sanders, 33, said. “It’s standard stuff.”

It also is a reminder of what’s at stake when his unit goes to work. He already has a good sense of that because of his job, Sanders said. Working in what might be

called the field of bad-guy management, “I have a mind-set where I’m aware of the situation,” Sanders said.

The issue of law and order has gotten more complicated in Afghanistan because of recent protests. However, the unrest doesn’t signal a wider insurgency, said Col. Andy Hall, commander of the task force that includes the 1186th Military Police.

“The recent protest is in response to the accidental destruction of various religious materials, including the Quran,” Hall said in a Facebook posting.

“What is important to know is that these protesters are simply expressing their frustration. This is wholly different than an insurgent attack on our installations.”

The Afghan police are in the lead, and although the television images look chaotic, the police are doing a good job of managing the protesters. U.S. soldiers are not out on the street dealing with the protest, and coalition installations are secure, Hall wrote.

Sanders echoed the colonel’s assessment, and added an observation of his own. Sanders said he’s watched TV coverage of disturbances in American cities.

“In the U.S., it’s because of a ball game,” he said. In Afghanistan, “It’s because of their religion.”

There is one part of his job that a lot of people could identify with, Sanders added. He spends a lot of his 12-hour work shift on the computer.

“I’m answering email a lot,” said Sanders, who originally is from Elora, Tenn. “I make sure the troops are fed and paid, get their leave, and receive all the awards they deserve.

“I get a lot of paperwork done.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.