Rich Walton & Afghan Boy

Walk the Walk

Guns, bullets, death and corruption, and for centuries the Afghan endless war has been known as the place where empires come to die.

What makes this book different and unique from so many of the other books written about the Afghan war? How did having no work lead to having my dream job and what kept me coming back like a moth drawn to a flame.

I was living pretty much the American dream, raised in a middle class neighborhood, grew up picking strawberries and delivering newspapers followed by teen and early twenty’s working in restaurants and labor jobs earning my way through college. Got married to my beautiful wife, have 3 sons and a small farm along with my own Architectural design business. Fulfilling my boyhood dream of having my office on a farm and a window that our horse could poke its head through just like the show I grew up watching on T.V. , Mr. Ed. I was not wealthy but was making ends meet. We had a good life. But doubt had begun to creep in. While sitting at my desk day after day designing houses for over 25 years I began to feel like I was having to re-invent the wheel every day and was wondering if this is all life had left for me. Bluntly I was leading “A life of quiet desperation”.

Then like a whirlwind the 2008 recession came in. Banks where not making loans effecting my business as it began to spiral downward. It’s a Recession when your neighbors are out of work and a Depression when you are out of work. Well it was turning into a depression for me fast. I applied for jobs everywhere, willing to take a job doing anything, but NOT getting hired. It seemed like I spent days and late into the nights sending out hundreds of resumes. NOTHING!

I remembered how some of my clients had started with nothing and worked their way up to great successes. One such client was a man who had worked in a paper mill making little money and constantly being laid off. After one such lay off a friend of his offered to pay him to help him make colorful horse cinches for horse saddles. Then the owner asked my client to buy the business from him paying him as he could afford to. My client started driving to local Saddle and tack shops, bought a van and drove to shops further away selling his fancy and colorful horse cinches, then he started selling them in catalogs. By the time I met him, he had an office with employees sending these colorful horse cinches all around the world. He told me if he had never been laid off from the paper mill he would still be there.

This was just like the Horatio Alger Stories I grew up reading, an American writer of young adult novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle class by way of hard work. These books where a huge inspiration for me.

After months of my business getting less and less work, the proverbial saying of “I know a guy who knows a guy” came to fruition for me. An overseas contractor who lives on the east coast needed a construction manager for Afghanistan. So taking to heart the saying that when one door closes another door opens, I still needed to take the initiative to walk through it. I didn’t hesitate, I packed my bags and with $300 in my pocket I flew to Iraq and then to Afghanistan by myself.

Don’t let me mislead you. The point of going to Afghanistan was for the paycheck, but, I needed the change and the added adventure of being a part of history in the making was irresistible. After my boots hit the ground in Afghanistan it became much more than the money and the adventure, it became about helping the Afghan people. I had this endearing feeling of being needed and making a difference in peoples lives. I helped build schools and health clinics in the villages, working with the local workers, most of whom could not read or write, plus I worked with the Afghan army on many projects for their military bases.

I knew it was important to tell the stories of what I saw and experienced as a civilian in a war zone as it is so much different than what I ever saw in the United States news. When I was in college I met students that wanted to be social workers, counselors, etc. to help the poor neighborhoods. Because I grew up in one of those areas, I would get into heated arguments as they told me their ideas of what needed to be done in those neighborhoods. I knew they had no idea of what it is like to live in those communities, to worry about being mugged on your way to the store at night, or your kids getting beat up on the streets, about your house or apartment being robbed. So I would suggest if you want to help in those neighborhoods, go live in the neighborhoods you want to fix and experience what it is actually like. Basically you need to walk the walk to talk the talk.

I found the same to be true for Afghanistan. We would have news correspondents fly in for a whirl wind tour of several bases and sometimes combat situations, then they left. Not enduring the day in and day out – 7 day a week grueling mind numbing environment and experiencing the daily heartbreak of the Afghan people in their daily trials of illness, hunger and death. In all cases you have to live with people in order for them to trust you and share their most personal feelings. You have to walk the walk to be able to talk the talk. You have to have been there – done that.

Hopefully since I have walked the walk I will be able to talk the talk in such a way to inform the readers of what it’s really like in Afghanistan.

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