Even as the nation dialed back its attachments to these far-off battles between U.S. troops and Islamic fanaticism, Mr. Hake and his Spirit of America associates stayed in the game. First in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, they've continued to fill requests from commanders on the ground for the sort of stuff—sewing machines, blankets, radios, soccer balls—that is too small to register with the Pentagon's procurement bureaucracies but matters in terms of creating trust between the troops and local villagers.
Until the Defense Department made them stop.
The Spirit of America fought through the government bureaucracy to support the troops in Afghanistan. Will the rest of us stay the course?
It also helped that Spirit of America's work in Iraq had earned the support of Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, currently head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Joe Dunford, the Marines' No. 2 officer. Gen. Mattis said that if the program fit within the Pentagon's guidelines, his lawyers would write it into a workable regulation.
Mr. Johnson and Ms. Bradley signed off in late October, Gen. Mattis's lawyers wrote the reg, and Spirit of America this week has Matt Valkovic and Chris Hellie on the ground with the Marines in Helmand Province. Mr. Hake arrives in Afghanistan next Wednesday.
It is hard not to note the irony of needing government at the highest level to green-light a good idea at the lowest level. That, I'm afraid, is the story of government in our time.
Asked about his involvement, Gen. Mattis characteristically cut to the chase: "When capable people with good intentions meet bad processes, bad processes win nine out of 10 times. The CSP is a good process that connects good people on opposite sides of the earth--Afghan and American--to each other using our troops who can see the immediate needs." Gen. Mattis says the program "opens a whole new vista for direct support when U.S. government money is not the right answer."
Mr. Hake, wearing his software cap, thinks the right analogy for unlocking private, civilian expertise to support modern warfighting needs in places like Iraq or Afghanistan is the way we developed Web standards, which set in motion waves of innovation. His guys on the ground in Afghanistan, for example, carry satellite Internet access everywhere they go and plan to set up Skype video conferences to access expertise for immediate, nonmilitary needs—say, for village health or local commerce.
"Even if you don't think we should be there," says Mr. Hake, "you should want us to be successful as long as we are there. This is the time to lean forward and this private support is one way to do it."
It's also one good way to ensure that the Americans over there on our behalf aren't forgotten by the rest of us back here.