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Something I Did Well - With A Free Essay Review

The prompt is to write about something I did well. It needs to be 400 words or fewer.

My mission in Afghanistan was simple: create and implement a training program for the Afghan border police and initiate Afghan-led operations. But when I learned that my area of operation had no schools, I understood that my deployment would be a failure if I only accomplished my assigned tasks. I took the initiative to build a school, but soon hit a roadblock. My commanding officer gave me his blessing; however, my budget would be $0: slightly lower than what I felt was needed.

When my team began receiving food and toiletries from various charity organizations, I realized that they could send pens and notebooks as well. I planned around only the simple essentials: pens, paper, textbooks, and teachers. I began scouring for supplies; I pestered embedded reporters, interpreters, and other Marines to find textbooks. I suggested the idea during biweekly shuras, meetings with the local elders. The early meetings with these men — with their grizzled beards and deeply worn faces staring blankly towards me — were of little help, but after they realized that I was serious, they helped me compile a list of literate men and offered me advice. The turning point occurred during an impromptu talk on patrol; a villager had an unused building I could use. I had almost everything that I needed, but my charm alone proved insufficient to convince the teachers to work without pay. When I reported my progress, the colonel finally made this a battalion project and gave me a budget.

The perpetual all-nighters were rewarded when I saw the students smiling with visible anticipation as they walked into school for the first time. I marveled at the contrast between the Marines in body armor and the villagers in their finest garments. People almost even forgot the blistering 130°F June day. My joy was still tempered, however, by the realization of the tenuous nature of the school and how much work was still required. For my remaining months, I supervised the daily operations of the school and a second school we later built. Out of necessity, I quickly adapted to the skills needed to negotiate with employees who have differing cultural habits; I managed the competing pressures that formed between the local elders and my major; and I balanced my various jobs as a team leader training the Afghan border police, a Marine conducting daily patrols, and the supervisor of two schools.


Essay Review

It would be difficult to tell this story in a way that is not compelling, but you've told it in a way that is very compelling, and that makes my job fairly easy: the essay is basically fine. I'm going to make a few suggestions without bothering for the most part to try to justify them (it's difficult to justify suggestions about wording and style).

1. My first suggestion is that you consider a different beginning. I'll try to justify this. The thing you did well was to establish a school in a war-torn region that had none. That is such a remarkable thing to have done (and to have done well) that it ought to be stated baldly. (I'm suggesting, in case it's not clear, that you begin with a sentence like "The thing I did well was etc.").

2. I hate the phrase "I took the initiative." I am probably not alone in this. I like the phrase "I decided."

3. I recommend devoting one or two sentences to explaining why you thought your mission would have been a failure had you not established a school. That may require you to delete other things (I've not done the word count), but deleting is easy; indeed, it's sometimes a luxury.

4. You say you "realized" that charities could send pens and notebooks, but not that you asked them to send those things. You could just replace "realized that they could" with "asked them to."

5. The sentence "I planned around only etc." (I prefer "for" to "around") is really the topic sentence of its paragraph. It should go first. The current first sentence ("When my team etc.") should go, let's say, third.

6. If you follow suggestion number five, you will then need to change "I suggested the idea" to "I suggested the idea of a school."

7. The first half of the last paragraph is a bit too much about you: your all-nighters being rewarded at the sight of smiling kids (that's a little Hallmarkesque); your marvelling at the contrast - you can just note the contrast, and let the reader do the marvelling if she wants to; your joy being tempered. It would be more interesting, and ultimately more effective, to explain what you did and why: The school's existence was precarious because the region was still threatened with violence, or because it depended on the cooperation of people from very different backgrounds (or whatever explanation is true); I supervised etc.

8. If the schools still stand, you might in the end mention that fact.



P.S. Thank you for establishing those schools.
Submitted by: ryanc.winkler

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