Andrew Pedersen-Keel’s Letter to Colorado Teachers and Students
Our son, Andrew Pedersen-Keel, wrote to a 6-8th grade teacher whose students (150) sent letters to Andrew and his team of 11 guys asking questions about the military and Special Forces. The teacher is a sister of one of the Special Forces guys who used to work with Andrew’s team. Andrew wrote a response to the teacher addressing most of the students’ concerns. He and the team are also writing individual responses to each of the letters. It was a bit more informative as to what they’re doing over there.
Dear Ms. Cindy Matthews and Students,
First, let me begin by saying, from all of us on ODA 3126, we thank you immensely for your thoughtful letters. The team unanimously appreciated the thought and time you all put in to consider, write, consolidate and send all the letters. It means the world to us. My name is Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel. I am the team leader for ODA 3126. Our ‘squad’ is made up of 12 men, including me, and we refer to it as a ‘detachment’, ‘ODA’, or simply our ‘team’. The men who make up the team are from all over the country, are different ages, are different ranks, have different backgrounds, and believe in different religions. Despite these differences, we make up a team that is bound together like a family. It’s like having 11 new brothers. Because of that, often times people refer to our organization as a ‘brotherhood’. Our families at home are the most important thing in the world to us. Right after them is our team. It is essentially our family away from our family. As many of your thoughtful letters pointed out, we do serve our country. But that is simply an added bonus to serving with each other. Right now, we are on assignment in Afghanistan. But the assignment is temporary. After Afghanistan, the team will go on to carry out many other kinds of missions all over the world. The work can be tough at times, but it is the camaraderie that we feel towards our fellow ‘men at arms’ that reinforce our commitment to the organization, to our missions, and most importantly, to each other. Hearing about this brotherhood is what inspires most of the Special Forces soldiers to join.
Many of you had very similar questions for our team. In this email, I’d like to address some of the more common questions we received. In keeping with the style of your letters, I’ll introduce myself a bit, and then answer some of those questions. As I mentioned, my name is Andrew and I am the ODA team leader. I am 28 years old and I am an officer in the US Army. I am originally from Connecticut, which is very cold, and gets a bunch of snow during the winter, just like Colorado. Because of all the snow, I started snowboarding when I was 10, and have continued to do so ever since. I went to college at West Point in New York to play lacrosse, and after graduation commissioned as an Infantry Officer, and my first assignment was in Texas. While in Texas, my battalion deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan (which was the capital of the country after the United States defeated the Taliban, and the new Afghan government relocated it to its present city, Kabul). In Kandahar, I led an infantry platoon of 35 men for 13 months. At the time, I was just 24 years old. It was an amazing experience. During my time in Kandahar, I worked with Special Forces soldiers, and knew from that moment that I wanted to serve with the Army’s most elite organization, the Special Forces. When I came home, I went to tryouts and was selected. After selection, I began the training, which was about two years long. When the training was complete, I was assigned, as are the rest of my team, to 3rd Special Forces Group in North Carolina. Almost immediately after being assigned, I deployed to Afghanistan, and was assigned to ODA 3126.
Many of you were curious about our mission right now. Basically, now that the Taliban are defeated, we are here to assist and advise the very young Afghan government and it’s security organizations (like their army and police) on how to be more effective. Imagine for a moment if the police in Platt weren’t police at all. Imagine that they were bakers, carpenters, teachers, bankers, anything but police. Imagine, that all of a sudden, a new police force was being developed, and it paid very well. Many of these men who were formerly from other jobs would want to, and eventually would become, police officers. The problem would be that they wouldn’t have any training or experience as a police officer. That is, to a certain extent, what happened in Afghanistan. Before the US helped the creation of the new Afghan government, there were no police, and there was no army. We work with these new security forces to help them become more effective at their jobs. We don’t just help the Afghan police, though. We also help the Afghan Army and Afghan Special Forces become better too. By making them better, we provide them the ability to maintain their effectiveness after the United States leaves Afghanistan. In a nutshell, that’s why we’re here. The work is very difficult, can be frustrating, but is enjoyable and very rewarding.
We received a lot of questions about what it’s like to be in the Army. The Army is an organization like any other. The quality of your experience in the organization is a direct result of the quality of your leadership and the quality of your peers. For instance, if you worked as a nurse and the doctor who was your boss was a supportive, rational person then your experience might be enjoyable. If, on the other hand, the doctor was dismissive and irritable, then your experience working for that doctor may not be as enjoyable. We are fortunate in Special Forces, because the majority of our leadership are good, decent leaders who care deeply about their soldiers. As for your peers, teamwork is the name of the game. Work well with others and peer support networks, also known as friendships, blossom.
Some of you were curious about what it’s like to be away from our families for so long. At times, it can be very difficult to spend long stretches of time away from loved ones. The toughest times are usually around the holidays. We are very fortunate though. At our disposal, day and night, we have Internet connectivity and phones, allowing us almost daily contact with our loved ones. This is a tremendous help maintaining a positive attitude while away. I would say that in order to appreciate a job like this one, you must have an innate ability to appreciate traveling, learning about other cultures, and be willing to embrace the unknown. Deploying and traveling are different in many ways, but share alot of qualities too. In order to be comfortable away from home, you must embrace the time as an opportunity for self-growth. A lot of guys pass the time by reading books, studying foreign languages, doing projects for the community we live in Afghanistan, or working out. Productive use of the time, and frequent phone calls and email makes being away from loved ones much easier.
A whole bunch of letters we received asked about what kind of missions we do. I can’t go into very much detail, but I can say that all of our missions include our Afghan partners (Afghan Special Forces) and that sometimes we walk, sometimes we drive, and sometimes we fly in helicopters (my personal favorite is flying). We do missions at night, during the day, during the heat, during the snow, during the rain, during whenever. We are all trained to operate in any condition, at any time of year, at any altitude, in any uncertain environment. We take much pride in that ability. Many of our missions are dangerous, but we are very well trained, and work together like a machine. We don’t ever look for a fight, but when someone wants to start one, it’s good to be the tougher contender.
Many of you mentioned your own hesitance about joining the military. My advice to you is, don’t worry about it. Work hard in school, and everything will fall into place. If it’s something you’d like to pursue in the future, it will be there for you to pursue. I promise the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If it’s something you want to do, it will be there waiting for you. If it’s not something you want to do, find what you do want to do, and do your best to get there (that almost always means working hard).
Life in Afghanistan is very different from life in the United States. The people (Afghans) live in adobe-like huts that are surrounded by high walls. We call these structures compounds. Clusters of compounds together are villages. Most villages support themselves through agriculture. The people are very poor and the education system is very lacking. Many of the compounds house several families, and rely on just a handful of wood burning stoves to keep warm in the winter. The children are very friendly to us, but most of the adults are skeptical about our efforts. Many of them think that once we leave, the nation will fall into civil war, so they believe our efforts to be in vain. The people are generally very hospitable, and it is their culture to be very giving. This practice is referred to as ‘Pashtunwali’. Seeing what kind of poor conditions the people, and especially the children live under makes me feel so much gratitude for what we have in the United States. If you’re ever in doubt about how fortunate we are as Americans, just think about walking to a school that has no books, in the snow, wearing flip flops, only to return home and work on the fields for another several hours. Life is rough, but the Afghans know how to persevere and are eternal optimists.
I hope I’ve adequately answered some of your questions. I’ll be encouraging my team to respond whenever they’ve got the time to some of your other questions as well. As a parting note, I’d like to add two thoughts that someone very wise (my mom) told me when I was in middle school that still resonate with me as an adult. The first concerns reading. I didn’t enjoy reading when I was a kid, but I always loved the idea of traveling, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. One day, my mom, knowing that I didn’t enjoy reading explained to me that reading and traveling to exotic places is fundamentally the same thing. Reading is, and forever will be, traveling for the mind. That struck a cord with me, and stuck with me for the rest of the time I was in school. I became an avid reader of all types of books, but literature became my favorite. Reading opened my mind and helped me grow spiritually and intellectually. Why is that valuable? This may come as a surprise, but guns and bombs and tanks aren’t the most powerful weapons we have. The ultimate weapon we, and you, have in life is your intellect and education. Books are your ammunition. Read on. It will take you places beyond your wildest imagination. The second concerns the golden rule. We are perceived, correctly, as warriors. Warriors are not bullies. Warriors stand up for what’s right no matter what the consequences. The point is this: be a good person. Don’t tolerate the denigration of any of your peers. The concept of sportsmanship in athletics receives alot of attention. Sportsmanship is larger than merely athletics. Practice graceful sportsmanship in life, and you’ll always be on the moral high ground. What does that mean? Be good to everybody, and especially the nerds. Spoiler alert: when you grow up, nerds run the world.
Thanks again for all the letters and questions. I hope you’ve gotten some of the answers you were looking for. If there’s anything more specific from me personally, please don’t hesitate to ask. If there’s anything else we can do for you or your students, please let us know.
Captain, Special Forces Detachment Commander
ODA 3126,1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group
Fort Bragg, North Carolina