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Conditions 'pretty severe'

June 07, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - After temporarily trading in his service weapon to sling an M-4 over his shoulder, Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith has absorbed Afghanistan's culture and its heat while working in a police-related position overseas.

Smith, 54, in January took a temporary leave of absence from his police chief duties to work as a contractor in Afghanistan. The position is through a firm that has a contract with the U.S. Department of State, he said.

Capt. Charles Summers was named the department's acting chief.

Although Smith cannot say exactly where he is stationed or what, specifically, he is doing, he said in an e-mail that he is doing well and misses Hagerstown.

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"What do I miss about Hagerstown? Just about everything. For example ... not having to take malaria medication, paved roads, drinking water, Wal-Mart ... not to mention my family and co-workers," Smith wrote in the e-mail in response to questions.

He said conditions in Afghanistan are "pretty severe." Summer has arrived and the air is hot and very dry.

"I live under the same conditions and eat the same food as the military personnel at the various locations I visit," he said. "Work hours can be very long at times with no days off while in the field," he wrote.

He said he has learned to gain more of an appreciation for Hagerstown while stationed in the Middle East.

"These are among the poorest people in the world. Their lives are pretty much unchanged from ancient times. They, nonetheless, have a dignity and a fierce pride that is a wonder to observe," he wrote.

Smith said he has learned a good deal about tribal Afghan culture. In a photograph he sent, Smith is pictured with a Kutchie, a nomadic tribesman.

Tribesmen live by an ancient code known as the Pashtunwali, which includes traditions such as badal (revenge), melmastia (hospitality) and nanewatei (asylum), Smith said.

With nanewatei, "the bitterest enemy can approach the village elders or his own enemy and request forgiveness by submitting to the other party; a variant to this is a hunted person may present himself to any village and request protection," making it "particularly difficult for coalition forces hunting wanted people in this region," he wrote.

"Tribesmen show unflagging hospitality to strangers. It is nearly impossible to stop by a village or even a government building without being invited to tea and a meal," he said.

Smith said he has not experienced any anti-American sentiment.

"There is little to none of that in this area. Military convoys are quite a spectacle for the residents and we are treated graciously. The Taliban still holds on in this area but they are becoming the outsiders. The worry is that the U.S. will leave too soon, before reconstruction is accomplished," he wrote.

Smith said he corresponds with members of the police department by e-mail when he's available, but doesn't "try to run things from over here."

He wouldn't say whether he was acting in the capacity of a police chief, but wrote in response to a question, "One must learn to take orders before one can give orders."

Smith, who became chief of Hagerstown's police department in November 1999 after nearly 26 years with the Baltimore City Police Department, will return to Hagerstown between now and January 2006, he said.

"Although I am getting a great deal of satisfaction out of what I am doing thus far, I could not in good conscience recommend it to others," he wrote.

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