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Afghan Memoir Penned By Retired Military Man, Part Time Park City Resident

Jeff Schloessel

In the midst of headlines about the U.S. exit from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover of that country, a timely new memoir about life in the war zone is launching in bookstores across the country—including in Park City.

The author is Jeff Schloesser (shlow-sir) a retired major general, a former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, and now a part-time Parkite.    

Major General Schloesser’s book is called “Marathon War:  Leadership in Combat in Afghanistan.”   He will appear for a signing party at Dolly’s on September 25th.

He told KPCW that while the U.S. is out of Afghanistan 100 percent, Afghanistan won’t forget about us and we need to keep thinking about the country.

His 34-year military career included service in three different wars as well as stints in Kosovo, Jordan and South Korea.   He was the Pentagon’s first advisor in the global war on terror after 911.

Schloesser served for 15 months in Afghanistan, and during that time, he continued his life-long habit of keeping a journal.       

“I was re-reading it, years later after I retired.  It was just so striking that there were deeply personal moments in there, things that were heart-rending, really, really tough.   It makes you wanted to doubt your own humanity and your spirituality and everything like that.   And then there was uplifting moments and then there were incredibly crazy moments.    War can sometimes be funny and crazy and heart-breaking all at the same time.  And I said, y’know what, I’m going to start writing.”

He began writing the book in 2013-14.      Schloesser said the process took six years, plus one year for Defense Department clearance of the material in the book.

He said in the last month and a half, he’s been doing what he could to get people out of Afghanistan.     

“I don’t want to make any political statements, but in some cases, they felt like the U.S. government was not helping.   It was too bureaucratic or it was just impossible, given the way that we decided to leave in a rather hurried way.  So trying to help those Afghans get out.    Some I knew.   Some of em had worked for me.  Some I did not know, but the word had gotten out that I could help em one small way or another.”

Schloesser said he lost 180 troops in Afghanistan and they are always on his mind.      He said he wonders, like everyone else, was it worth it?    His answer is yes.      

“As Americans, we have been essentially protected from a big attack from Al Qaeda in our homeland for two decades.   It’s questionable whether that will remain now that we’re not there.  For the Afghans, we gave an entire generation of children, some who weren’t even born in 911, and then others that didn’t remember it because they were 2 or 3 years old, that whole generation grew up thinking that human rights was something that they too, Afghans too could have.  Girls could go to school.  Girls could become politicians and businesswomen, radio announcers, TV announcers, you name it, they are, now.   And this whole generation of hope for the Afghan people, it’s gonna keep us.   We have to stay involved one way or the other whether it’s in Afghanistan itself, whether it’s in the Afghan diaspora that we’re seeing right now.”

He added that they also tried to wean the country off the opium economy.     The U.S. sent in agricultural development teams to help farmers who have literally forgotten how to farm after decades of war.

But paradoxically, Schloesser said that the U.S. tried too hard to create a “little America” in Afghanistan.

“But the truth is we try, we don’t even know we’re doing this, when we roll up our sleeves and go into a country like this, we recreate, in some cases, our own country.  We use an awful lot of money.   We throw money at things to try to solve it.   We believe that the whole world has a culture that understands that humans are very important, rather than maybe not in some countries.   And so what I think we did is we made a mistake in trying to do too much way too fast.  And in many cases we disempowered tribal leaders.   And it was a very tribal, and remains a very tribal society.    Elders are deeply respected there.”

In the end, he said he remembers a comment from CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who once told him that the ordinary soldiers in Afghanistan are the best representatives of America.

Major General Schloesser will be on hand at Dolly’s, on Park City’s Main Street, on the evening of Saturday, September 25th.

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