Source:Amy Waldman, “A World Away From New York City, Soldiers Find That Street Smarts Come in Handy  —An ease with different cultures helps ease relations with Afghan troops”, The  New York Times, 17 December 2001, section B, page eight.


The New York Times on 17 December 2001 ran an article by Amy Waldman on three New York City soldiers in Afghanistan. The men were Felix Figueroa, Jason Alford, and Shaquib Khandakar.

Khandakar, 19, is from Queens, a Bangladeshi by birth. He lost relatives in the World Trade Center attack, and is strongly committed to serving his  country as part of the United States Army. Khandakar has become a bit of a celebrity with Northern Alliance soldiers because he can speak Urdu and is a Muslim.

Alford, 20, grew up in the Bronx but makes his peacetime home in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is the first black person many Afghans have ever seen in real life. Some Northern Alliance soldiers were wary of him at first. They apparently couldn’t conceive of a black American. Then, during a weeklong rotation with Alliance forces, Alford picked up some of their language and has grown to love the beauty of the Shamali Plain.

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Both Khandakar and Alford were reported as members of the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, New York.

Felix Figueroa, 26, is a specialist with the 82nd Airborne. A Puerto Rican by blood and heritage, he is the first member of his family born on the American mainland. Much of what he sees now in Afghanistan reminds him of the Bronx of his youth, the Times reports, when arson had destroyed hundreds of apartments and former residents became urban refugees.

Street smarts help. Figueroa secures equipment with cords that can withstand 550 pounds of pressure. One day, a young Afghan tried to snatch Figueroa’s flashlight. He didn’t get far.

“He didn’t know it was a 550 cord,” the Times quoted Figueroa as saying with a satisfied smile. “And I don’t think he knew I was from the Bronx.”