Pa. Guardswoman serves students Afghan lessons

January 31, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Spc. Emily Seidel presents a slide show Monday at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School about her experiences in Afghanistan with the Pennsylvania National Guard.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Back from Afghanistan for two weeks of R&R, Spc. Emily Seidel spent Monday at her former school in uniform, answering students’ questions about women’s rights, religion, the Taliban and the Central Asian nation’s national sport, buzkashi.

“I thought it was important for you to hear a little bit about what’s going on in Afghanistan,” Seidel told students in Rich Richardson’s social studies class.

Students received samples of Afghan tea and naan, a type of flat bread, as she spoke about her experiences.

Seidel works in intelligence at Bagram Airfield with the 234th Infantry Brigade, but she was performing a different kind of service for seventh-grade students at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, at least one of whom said he never heard of Afghanistan, despite the U.S. military’s decade-long presence there.

Students had trouble identifying a man with whom Seidel was pictured — Vice President Joe Biden — and one student had heard the word mosque but wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

For the past few months, Seidel has communicated using Skype from Afghanistan with the students in another class, in which her mother, Marcie Seidel, is an instructional aide, Principal Mark Herman said.

Seidel graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in geography and got her certificate to teach secondary social studies from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. She joined the Pennsylvania National Guard two years ago at the age of 25 and was deployed to Afghanistan last November.

Her cousin, Lt. Robert Seidel III, of Gettysburg, Pa., was a West Point graduate and Army Ranger who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.

“Even before his death ... I began to view the military as something honorable to do,” she said during a break between classes. “He fully believed in everything he was doing over there ... It helped to fuel my decision.”

Seidel gave the students a short lesson in Afghan history, explaining how it was dominated first by the Hindu, then Buddhist and now Muslim religions. She told of how the British fought three wars there and the former Soviet Union another, before the United States and its coalition partners began fighting there.

Seidel spoke about the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam and how Afghanistan is predominantly Sunni. She explained the difference between the homegrown Taliban movement and the more international aspirations of al-Quaida.

The students seemed most intrigued by the lives of the Afghan people and the soldiers fighting there.

“Why don’t women have any rights over there?” Christine Faith asked after Seidel explained that men and women worship and attend school separately and that, during the reign of the Taliban, women were prohibited from working or going to school.

“The Taliban basically treated women as property” and ruled through intimidation and terror, Seidel said.

Student Danny Wang said he was surprised by the emphasis on religious education rather than on subjects taught in American public schools.

The most surprising thing Megan Swam learned, she said, “was probably about that game they play with a dead calf.”

In buzkashi, teams of horsemen battle over the carcass of a calf or goat to see which can score by dragging it into a circle outlined on a field. Seidel played a CNN report about the sport in which the director of the nation’s Buzkashi Federation said he hopes it will become an Olympic sport.

Toward that end, the use of knives and other weapons in federation play has been outlawed and the use of something other than an animal carcass is being considered, the report said.

Marcie Seidel said her daughter is scheduled to complete her tour in July. She will return to her unit in a few days, she said.

With e-mail, Facebook, Skype and other methods of communication, Marcie Seidel said she is frequently in contact with her daughter, though she is half a world away.

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