Okaloosa County Judge Patt Maney almost paid the ultimate price trying to rebuild Afghanistan, a country struggling to rebound after decades of war, fanatical Taliban rule, and pervasive poverty.
Maney’s goal is to return to the bench in July
By Jan Pudlow
The riverbed was a crude road for the armored sport utility vehicle traveling near Paghman, in the mountains above Kabul, Afghanistan.
Spotting a little dip ahead, the driver slowed down and tapped the brakes. At that very moment, an improvised explosive device blasted off the bumper, fender, and hood, and lifted the vehicle from the ground.
A fraction of a second later, just another four feet, and driver and his three passengers could have been killed.
Inside the SUV sat a shaken Patt Maney — an Okaloosa County judge, better known as Brig. Gen. Maney in the U.S. Army Reserves on this August 21, 2005, mission to find a source of potable water.
As senior officer, it was Maney’s call whether to exit the vehicle. If they stayed, he knew they could be sitting ducks for a rocket. If they exited, they could be targets for ground fire.
“It was a weighty decision. We didn’t know where the bad guys were or if terrorists would fire at the disabled vehicle,” recalled Maney.
“Fortunately, they didn’t fire. It was simply an ambush.”
Fueled by adrenalin, and not even aware he was bleeding, Maney said, they “dumped out” and climbed into another SUV, went back to Kabul to advise the British Army Patrol what had happened, and then hightailed it to the U.S. Embassy. The same day, a roadside bomb attack killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded three others in southern Afghanistan.
After evacuating to a German Army Field Hospital, where he spent several days in intensive care, Maney was “Medevaced” to Washington, D.C., on September 10, to mend his head, neck, and back injuries, that included a concussion, bulging disc, chronic fatigue and pain, urinary problems, loss of balance, and 23 cracked teeth requiring dental implants.
From his government quarters near the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where his friends include young soldiers who lost limbs, he continues out-patient treatment that includes daily physical and pool therapy, weekly acupuncture and craniosacral therapy, and vestibular therapy five days a week. Walter Reed, where nearly 19,000 wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated, has a special program for blast victims who suffer head injuries. As he prepares for yet another surgery, 57-year-old Maney talked about the camaraderie of amputees with amazing positive spirits, the world-class care of his medical team, and his hope to return to his judicial job in Okaloosa County in July.
Detailing his Afghan experience, he highlighted the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai and meeting the former king, Zahir Shah, who gave Maney an award for service to his country.
If he had it to do over again, would he agree to do this dangerous work in Afghanistan, a country struggling to rebound after decades of war, fanatical Taliban rule, and pervasive poverty?
“Absolutely,” Maney answered without hesitation. “I really believe that the future of the U.S. as we know it, and the future of the West as we know it, are at stake. An added bonus is that we are giving opportunities of peace and prosperity and liberty to 25 million in Afghanistan. That’s not a bad day’s work.”
Delivering ballots by mule, a new president’s inauguration
C.J. Roark, a friend and judge in neighboring Escambia County, calls Maney “a very dedicated, patriotic person. He’s the kind of person who without hesitation would give his life for his country.”
Judge Maney downplays the danger of his second job in the Army Reserve, likening it to knowing it’s possible, but not likely, to be killed in a shooting in a courtroom or getting in a car wreck on the way to work.
Maney joined the Army Reserve after receiving his bachelor’s degree and before entering law school.
“In the beginning, it was part of my military obligation going through ROTC during the Vietnam War,” Maney said. “A lot of people served their obligation and got out. I enjoyed it, found it meaningful, and stayed.”
Eventually, Maney became known as a “post-conflict civil affairs specialist” and served in Panama, Haiti, and Bosnia. Because of that experience, he was recruited to be an advisor to the U.S. ambassador and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, made up of U.S. business leaders and government officials helping rebuild the country.
Part of his 17 months in Kabul was spent working on elections in Afghanistan, including delivering ballots by mule to remote areas.
Because of his legal background, he got the rare opportunity to draft an analysis of presidential election law in Afghanistan.
A new constitution ratified in August 2004 established Afghanistan as an Islamic Republic government with a president and bicameral legislature. Karzai, who served as provisional head of state after the Taliban were ousted, won the country’s first presidential election in October 2004 and the new parliament first convened in December 2005.
One of Maney’s greatest experiences in Afghanistan was the excitement of witnessing the inauguration of President Karsai.
“I was the only international representative to serve on the steering committee,” Maney said. “It was a thrill.”
On inauguration day, the newly renovated palace was abuzz with Afghans donning native dress and turbans. Palace guards stood at attention in red dress coats holding polished rifles.
Because of conservative Pashtun customs, Karzai’s wife, though a physician, could not be seen in public and was stuck in the residence on palace grounds to watch the proceedings.
Maney, dressed in a coat and tie and hooked up to a radio, was in charge of making sure events moved along as planned.
“There was real excitement and the sense of accomplishment of seeing history unfold and a major foreign policy goal of the United States attained,” Maney said.
Another of what Maney calls a “must-tell moment” was “an exciting, but humbling day,” on September 6, 2005, nearly two weeks after the blast in the riverbed, when Maney was honored with a long list of medals.
In the morning, he received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Action Badge from LTG Karl Eikenberry, the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan commander, and U.S. Ambassador Ron Neumann.
That afternoon at the palace, the former king, 91-year-old Zahir Shah, who was only 19 when he ascended the throne when his father was assassinated and lived in exile in Italy after he was deposed, presented Maney with the National Medal of Ghazi Mir Bacha Khan, the highest Afghan military award for service, named for an Afghan hero of the Second Afghan War when Afghanistan won its independence from Britain.
Maney made the news on Afghan TV.
Later that evening, Neumann gave Maney the State Departement’s Meritorious Honor Award certificate and the medal was later presented in Washington by Ambassador Maureen Quinn, an unusual honor, Maney said, because he was a Department of Defense employee.
The following day, the minister of defense, Gen. Rahim Wardak, hosted a going-away reception in Maney’s honor.
“Heady things for a Southern boy,” Maney said in an e-mail to his wife, Caroline, and friends on that red-letter day.
He was also pleased to receive a proclamation from Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, thanking him for his service. And Gov. Jeb Bush stopped by to visit Maney at his outpatient quarters in April, before traveling to the Middle East.
When Maney explains the great satisfaction he receives from his other career as a nation-builder, he recalls one moment during a freezing, snowy winter at a refugee camp in Afghanistan.
One of the elementary schools back home in Ft. Walton Beach had responded to his plea to donate clothes and toys and vitamins.
Maney took the goods to be delivered through the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies. The Afghan families and their children lined up in an orderly fashion to receive one randomly dispersed toy each, a Frisbee here, a rubber ball there.
“You see such smiles of excitement and real simple joy,” Maney said.
Elections, economics, and education
Maney believes in President Bush’s words spoken October 7, 2001, in his first address after September 11, 2001, announcing military strikes against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan: “We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”
He calculates it has been 1,739 days since terrorists attacked America to the June 15 date of this issue of the Bar News, and, as he says, “the hunt for terrorists goes on.”
He agrees it would be “a major step forward if we can capture or kill Osama bin Laden,” but he isn’t surprised the Al Qaeda leader has eluded capture.
“It is hard to find one person if they are willing to live a Spartan existence,” said Maney, giving the example of Eric Rudolph, the abortion clinic bomber who hid out in the North Carolina mountains for more than five years before police finally found him.
“It won’t mean the war on terror is over if we capture those people. It’s a long struggle,” Maney said.
The Afghan people, Maney said, “are very appreciative that we helped throw out the Taliban, but they are eager and impatient to make progress.”
Maney’s job in Afghanistan was reconstruction: help oversee historic elections, rebuild the legal system, and provide economic opportunities, because, as he said: “It’s hard to have democracy when everybody is hungry.”
On the day of the blast that ended his mission, Maney was checking out two sites as possible sources of potable water in a country without a water purification or distribution system.
Rather than fly in bottled water for U.S. and coalition forces, the idea was to encourage Afghan entrepreneurs to go into the bottled water business, with the U.S. as the first customer to jumpstart the enterprise. “The real race is if we can get enough done to satisfy people while the Afghan systems mature,” Maney said.
One of the U.S. foreign policy goals is to provide greater opportunities for Afghan women, Maney said, while being careful not to ridicule religious and cultural customs that keep them separate and unequal.
Improving the status of women, he said, can be accomplished by improving their health care. For example, in Badaksahm, in the northeast corner of Afghanistan up in the Himalayas bordering China, Maney said, is the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
In Afghanistan, where the life expectancy is only 46 years, every 30 minutes a woman dies in childbirth, and one in five children dies before the age of 4. Just doing something as simple as adding folic acid to diets of pregnant women would make a big difference, Maney said.
The U.S. has built 300 schools in Afghanistan, Maney said, encouraging opportunities for women who have not had the chance to be educated for 26 years.
“Changing the income dynamic changes how women are viewed,” Maney said.
He told about a California woman who traveled to Kabul to teach women how to become hairdressers, giving them hair supplies so they can start their own businesses, even if it is just a humble salon out of their own home because of the culture’s restrictions on women to be out and about.
“What she has found is the women are able to increase the family’s income 400 percent,” Maney said. “What that does, when the wife suddenly brings in 400 times the income into the household, the male is more inclined to respect the women for what they can contribute.”
Maney has ideas for ways Florida could help Afghans from something as simple as offering scholarships at state colleges to using the successes of Florida’s forest industry to teach Afghans how to grow a “real, sustained timber industry.”
“I am optimistic,” Maney said. “I think Afghanistan enjoys not only international support, but broad bi-partisan support in the U.S. The challenge is providing enough assistance, on an international level, to make enough progress in the daily lives of people so they can see there really is hope. Some of these issues are going to take a generation to solve.”