The day before Brigadier General Andrew Twomey was to ship off to Afghanistan for the first time, he was completing precise, delicate work.
“He’s got a honey-do list to finish before he goes,” said Melanie Twomey, Gen. Twomey’s wife. Fixing a broken towel rack in an upstairs bathroom and installing a motion sensor in the back of the house were part of the list as Twomey tied up loose ends in his final hours at home.
With that done, Twomey would be ready to pursue a much larger task — training the Afghan army.
“We’re going to grow an army over there of about 80,000 folks,” Twomey said of the joint NATO and U.S. operation. The development of the Afghan army will entail establishing a basic training program, creating an officer training academy, and then assisting the Afghan soldiers in the field until they are ready to handle the load on their own.
“The first thing you do is [to ensure the army has] sufficient size to man the border and provide security in the towns,” Twomey said.
Originally from Boston, Mass., Twomey has been in the Army for 30 years since he graduated from West Point. He was stationed in Korea twice, as well as such American locales as California, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and, for the last two years, the Pentagon. In all, Twomey and his wife moved 14 times in 15 years before their previous posting in Hawaii. There they had their two children, Christopher and Juliet. The family moved to the Inverness Forest neighborhood of Potomac in 2005 when Twomey was assigned to the Pentagon.
Since being relocated to the Pentagon, Twomey has worked on the Army’s portion of the future year defense plan, the five-year budget of the Army. Specifically, that involves deciding how much funds should be allocated to which Army bases across the globe, Twomey said.
His next assignment figures to be a bit more difficult, the measures of success less precise. The easiest goal to measure is meeting the goal of 80,000 Afghan troops. After that things get murkier.
“The other measures are a little more subjective, and that’s in terms of the capability of the force,” said Twomey. Creating a leadership structure that can instill discipline within its ranks will be the keys to determining the new army’s success.
“People with weapons — that, lots of places have,” Twomey said. “What you want is that those soldiers are in a structure where they answer to the government.”
TWOMEY MARCHED INTO a classroom full of Bells Mill Elementary kindergartners and first- and second-graders on Monday, April 23, dressed in full gear and armed with delicate answers to some pointed questions.
“Most of the boys wanted to know if he was going to blow stuff up,” said Melanie Twomey.
“Some kids asked if he could get hurt,” said Patti Goldberg, a guidance counselor at Bells Mill who helped to organize the visit with Melanie Twomey. “He said, ‘I could, but I try really hard to be safe.’ He answered [all of the questions] honestly but with such care for the children.”
Melanie Twomey said that one child asked the general if he was going to bomb Afghanistan . The question underscored for Twomey the importance of his appearance for the students and his opportunity to help the children create a more nuanced views of the Army’s role in global affairs.
“I just talked about how our country is going over to help their country and I’m happy to help do that,” said Twomey.
Twomey answered the students’ questions, explained all of his gear — from his helmet to his gas mask and body armor. On a map he showed them where Afghanistan is located, as well as the other places around the country and the world that he has been stationed.
“I was taken with his [high rank] and his sensitivity to the children and his warmth — it wasn’t the stereotype of a general that I had in my mind,” said Goldberg.
Twomey had two goals in mind for speaking to the young students: first, he wanted to expand their knowledge of what the Army’s role was. Secondly, and more personally for Twomey and his wife, he wanted his daughter Juliet, a Bells Mill first-grader, to have a support network firmly in place while he is gone.
“Usually when we do these deployments [we’re] on a military base … and everyone in the community understands because they’re going through the same thing, but we don’t have that situation here,” said Melanie Twomey. “The first thing was to give community awareness … so that [Juliet’s] teachers, her counselor, her fellow students would kind of understand and know what she’s going through.”
“I feel very proud that we had that here,” said Goldberg. “He presented an aspect of our country that many people are torn about right now and it was very positive.”
ONE UNOFFICIAL OBJECTIVE of his mission will directly involve the Bells Mill students. In the coming weeks the students at the school will construct picture books depicting American and Afghani children playing together and becoming friends. Melanie Twomey will send them to her husband for him to pass out to Afghani children.
“It will connect our kids to their kids,” said Melanie Twomey. The books will be entitled “Two Countries Meet.” The final page of the books will show an Afghani and an American child shaking hands with the caption ‘Let’s be friends’ inside of a heart. Also inside of the heart will be a snapshot photo of the child who created each picture book.
“They were very, very excited about it,” said Goldberg of the project. Melanie Twomey will help the children create and color their picture books, and then will mail them to Gen. Twomey for him to distribute to Afghani schoolchildren.
“He told the kids that the children that he will give the books to are just like them, but that there environment is much different because [Afghani children] don’t have a lot of the things that they have,” said Goldberg.
For Twomey, the chance to help a struggling nation on such different levels is exactly why he decided years ago to make a career out of the Army.
“I went to West Point because it was a good school and it was free,” Twomey said. “I stayed [in the military] because the jobs were always interesting, the people are very dedicated and it’s very satisfying.”