Charlevoix man on the front lines of war on terror
BY KRISTINA HUGHES NEWS-REVIEW STAFF WRITER
CHARLEVOIX - James Spencley never expected to play a role in history.
Spencley, 36, a 1987 Charlevoix graduate, is on the front lines of the war on terror as an interrogator at a prison in Bagram, northeast of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Spencley, who entered the military in 1992 after earning a forestry degree from Michigan State University, was a former linguist in the Republic of Korea before entering interrogator school and becoming an instructor. Spencley was scheduled to go to Iraq before committing to the position in Afghanistan.
As an interrogator, he works with an interpreter interviewing people to discover information linked to the Al Qaeda and Taliban movements. Al-Qaeda had its origins in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Taliban, which harbors Osama Bin Laden, is a restrictive sect of the Islamic religion barring women from work and education and believed to be loyal to the Al Qaeda movement.
Living among the people Spencley is learning more about the misconceptions of the Muslim faith, and cultural differences between East and West.
"They are extremely generous people. They have nothing, but they would help you," Spencley said. "They're very peaceful and respectful."
Spencley said the barriers in language and religion complicate his efforts, but he is thankful for his interpreters. It is difficult to cross social boundaries; to be more effective in his work he must assimilate to the culture. By blending in it's easier for him to gain a level of trust. During his work he grows a heavy beard, and tries to remove himself from his Western ideology.
Spencley may interview between 30 to 40 people a day. Some of the prisoners have ties or suspicion of ties to Taliban and Al Qaeda, some are religious refugees, while others are forced into the network out of desperation.
"You have to be very open minded and act like that person, you need to become that person. The more comfortable they are with you, the more they will disclose," Spencley said.
During his free time he visits Kabul, the capital of a war-torn Afghanistan, which he describes as "a pathetic cosmopolitan area, bullet hole riddled and full of raw sewage.
"It's very desolate, with very little water, erosion and extremely poverty-stricken. More than 20 years of war has destroyed the countryside"
But Spencley is encouraged by the possibility of new beginnings. He believes if the elections go through, the Taliban presence may be gone by winter.
These changes may impact the future, the Afghan children.
During his day off he spends his time at a local orphanage, where close to 150 children make their home. He is helping the leaders renovate the school, collecting supplies, and plans to set up a fund-raising effort to better establish the education program and improve the children's living conditions. But for now, the money comes from his own pockets.
"The kids are running around barefoot, drinking water from one water source," Spencley said.
Spencley was recently home for a wedding, and shared his stories during a recent Petoskey Rotary Club meeting. He is returning to Afghanistan.
"I'm excited to get to know such an extremely different culture as deeply as I am, and to be a part of history," Spencley said.
Kristina Hughes can be reached at 439-9348, or email@example.com.
Isn't life funny?
About damn time we read some good reporting about the WOT.
Class Clown from my HS
is a S.E.A.L. and a Naval Commander at that!
Never would have guessed it then, but
he did play a mean game of soccer,
yes soccer! LOL
You should get in touch and tell him that they should use RealTorture® instead of fraternity pranks.