Meet a Member of the New, Greatest Generation

Whenever her spirits needed lifting, 1st Lt. Becky Heyse (center) would visit the girl's school in Zabul Province.

This week, the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, wrote a letter to his troops. In it, he called them the New Greatest Generation. One member of that generation is 1st Lt. Becky Heyse who recently returned from a nine month deployment in Afghanistan.

Heyse always wore a scarf when she met with Afghan women as a sign of solidarity.

Heyse, formerly assigned to the MacDill Air Force Base Public Affairs Office, served on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in one of Afghanistan’s most conservative regions, Zabul Province. Her team worked with village elders and government appointed officials to improve infrastructure things like repairing schools and providing government services.

“That mentoring role, that really being on the frontlines in the sense of building the government and really helping them develop the government helping them develop their capabilities. It was very, very rewarding,” Heyse said.

Heyse and members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team meet with Zabul Province officials.

A member of an Air Force communications group, Heyse saw members of her PRT team, like computer network specialists, taking the lead on foot patrols. Two team members were killed by a suicide bomber during her tour. 

Like them, Heyse was trained and also went on foot patrols to get out into the villages where there was a strong Taliban influence. She said they did not anticipate the intimidation that villagers live with daily.

Heyse's PRT unit routinely met with villagers in Zabul Province to hear their concerns and learn their needs.

“My commander, he likened it to somewhat of a Nazi Germany paranoia where you don’t know exactly who is the Taliban,” Heyse said. “And so when the night comes and the Taliban comes into the villages, we knew that two kilometers outside of the capital city the Taliban went into the villages and pulled the people out of their houses and intimidated them and sometimes tortured, sometimes beat the elders.” 

The challenge for Heyse and PRT members was to help villagers overcome that intense fear. She said some days for every step forward there were five steps back. Yet, they had some successes. 

Interns hold up their training completion certificates. Heyse's PRT started the internship program in Zabul Province that trains and places English speaking, Afghan high school graduates in government agencies. A step toward getting Afghans to begin to trust their government.

They set up an internship program where young, English speaking, literate Afghan high school graduates were tested, trained and assigned to government agencies. She said it re-energized older government workers who had about an 80 percent vacancy in many agencies.

“One of the biggest and perhaps most unexpected was a way for the average Zaboli to connect to the government,” Heyse said. “These kids would go home to their parents and talk about what they were doing with the government.”

A look at the training - teaching interns customer service, how to analyze problems and respond.

There were 30 interns in their first class. The PRT were planning to hire 40 to 50 more in the second round. But, Heyse said more than 200 showed up to take the test which had to be administered in the parking lot of the governor’s office because they didn’t have big enough room. Heyse said that showed the younger generation’s enthusiasm for building a new government.

Shortly after  returning to MacDill, Heyse got a new Permanent Change of Station, PCS, to Hawaii. But, she’s pretty sure she will be re-deployed to Afghanistan in the future and will go willingly.

You can listen to Heyse’s interview on WUSF 89.7.

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