Colgate Alumni Discuss Their Work in Afghanistan

Caitlin Gilligan, Maroon-News Staff

On Thursday, April 2, Colgate alumni Parker Laite ’06 and Justin Markley ’14 came to Colgate to discuss their work with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). In their presentation entitled, “From Colgate to Washington to the Front Page: Two Recent Grads Working to Root out Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Afghanistan Reconstruction,” they discussed the mission of SIGAR and described the work that they do.

Parker began the presentation discussing the mission of SIGAR. The group’s focus is on three main challenges in Afghanistan today: sustainability, corruption and the drug trade. SIGAR’s purpose is to oversee assistance programs and funding to ensure resources are being used efficiently.

“Our reconstruction mission is far from over,” Parker said. The United States has invested $104 billion into reconstruction, not including military spending. Parker explained how the United States and other countries supply revenue for the state to perform its basic duties.

Markley, having met Parker in the basement of Colgate’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity house last time Parker came to speak about SIGAR, followed in Parker’s footsteps by getting involved in SIGAR upon graduating in 2014.

“Its a very quintessential ‘Gate story,” sophomore Dana Jacobs said, one of the students in attendance at the lecture.

During the presentation, Markley introduced slides with examples of different audits that SIGAR had performed. The audited projects he highlighted included local community projects, city power projects and projects for military vehicles and aircraft. A particular example of this is the Kajaki Dam that was supposed to provide power to the city of Kandahar.  When one of the turbines wasn’t functioning, a Diesel Power Plant was set up in its stead to power the city temporarily.

“It is about as temporary as Gate House,” Markley said, referring to the dam. 

The dam was unable to be fixed since it was in a Taliban controlled area. Even if it had been fixed, it would not have been able to supply the same amount of power as the diesel power plant.

Every audit example was accompanied by photographs in the presentation. Many of these photos were of Parker doing fieldwork. An audience member asked if he purposefully grew a beard for his trips to Afghanistan. Parker said that it was to make him look older and to garner more respect from Afghan officials. They noted how they also always made sure they had a United States military officer of comparable standing with them when meeting with Afghan military officers in order to show respect.

“The SIGAR mission is really admirable – one fact that particularly stuck with me was Mr. Laite mention[ed] that Afghani doctors were leaving their jobs to drive taxis, capitalizing on a more profitable market due to American presence,” Jacobs said. 

“As a transfer student as of this Spring, the SIGAR lecture was one of my first interactions with famed Colgate alumni. I think everyone appreciated Mr. Laite’s reference to the Jug – the mutual experience of Colgate allowed conversation to flow easily.”