Canadian Armed Forces Col. Acton Kilby has returned to Canada from Afghanistan with a sense of accomplishment and a U.S. medal.
Son of longtime Salmon Arm residents, Barbara and Peter (Brig. Gen. ret’d.) Kilby brought home the Bronze Star Medal awarded for meritorious service – the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth highest military award in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations.
On a one-year deployment as director of stabilization with 10 US Mountain Division, his role was to oversee the planning, execution and co-ordination of all special operations, rule of law and justice programs, development and humanitarian activities as well as co-ordination with all other government and non-governmental organizations in the area.
“I realized from the start we were with a wonderful organization,” he says, noting his boss, U.S. Maj.-Gen. James L. Terry, encouraged the group in many ways. “It made us work better as a team.They treated us (Canadians) as members of their group and when they felt it was time to recognize people, they did.”
Kilby says he received the medal for his efforts in development reconstruction and has returned home feeling good about what he and his Canadian contingent accomplished.
One of his proudest was the creation of what he says is now a well-established maternal health program in a country that leads the world in infant mortality.
Not only had communities lost the traditional ability to provide proper care, because the country also has the unhappy distinction of having the highest mortality rate among pregnant women, fear was an issue.
Experts and a cultural anthropologist who had dealt with these issues in other parts of the world were brought in to help devise a program.
“That’s one, in an odd way, that led to a broader sense of community security and health. We saw an improvement in communities’ approach, to not only us, but also government,” Kilby says. “Everything we did, we tried to link to being provided through the government to set the seed for government providing services.”
Another accomplishment that gives Kilby a good sense of satisfaction was the rehabilitation of a canal system that feeds irrigation in the Arghandab River Valley and co-ordination of international funding to revitalize a dam that was built in the late 1950s at the head of the Arghandab River.
“It’s a big signature item for the Canadian government,” he says, noting that just before his return to Canada in early October, the U.S. Congress approved funding to raise the dam eight metres. “It will increase the availability of water and make sure it functions for years to come.”
While many issues continue to challenge the country, Kilby says the people seem more and more determined to have stability.
“In most of that region, the concept of peace is not what we consider. Violence and corruption are very common and life is horrifically hard for most of them, but there will be a degree of stability and the average Afghan will have a greater voice,” he says. “Giving them that back made greater challenges for us, but they were good challenges.”
Recent assassinations of the mayor of Kandahar, the head of the provincial council and the chief of police were discouraging.
But Kilby says that the city continued to operate in the absence of the mayor, is a positive development in that the administration was capable of carrying on, and indicative that people didn’t want to see things fall apart again.
As well, he says Afghans have made some very public displays of disapproval for the Taliban as they enter their villages – in one community stoning them when they entered a town to collect a “tax.”
While Western governments may not like some of the Afghan solutions over the next few years as the country makes its own way, Kilby says the fact they are making their own choices is positive.
“The biggest lesson in terms of looking at problem-solving is that culturally they are so different from us and you have to take your time and listen a bit rather than rush,” he says. “Our projects are firmly established, so they will endure because the Afghans took ownership of them. There were a lot of failures when we tried to impose our cultural solutions.”
Now on leave, Kilby will take over as director of special plans for Strategic Joint Staff for the Minister of National Defence in Ottawa.