IN a week when Australia mourned the 33rd Digger to die in Afghanistan, former Essendon resident Lance Corporal Damien O'Haire firmly believes the troubled nation is closer to stand-alone status.
Lance Corporal O'Haire is weeks away from completing his deployment to Afghanistan as part of 'mentoring taskforce four'.
The former Strathmore Secondary College student is an infantry section commander and is responsible for tactical and administrative duties for his men.
The 25-year-old joined the army four years ago after giving up an electrical apprenticeship.
"I wanted do to something outside the square, it was perfect for me," he says.
"You get paid to be fit, have opportunities to travel and come to places like this."
Lance Corporal O'Haire is at Patrol Base Wali in the Mirabad Valley and says "it's pretty much like going back in time".
"There's not much electricity, they use aqueducts for water, and there are no sealed roads."
Lance Corporal O'Haire's mentoring taskforce is led by the 8/9th battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment from Brisbane.
The taskforce has four company-size mentoring teams responsible for training the kandaks (battalions) of the Afghan National Army's (ANA) 4th Brigade.
Soldiers operating in mentoring teams live with, train and provide support to their Afghan army colleagues at patrol bases in Uruzgan and Northern Kandahar provinces.
"The Afghan National Army is very good at gauging atmospherics and talking with the locals when out on patrol," he said.
"The locals are really great people; they work so hard.
"I saw a boy and girl one day travelling back and forth carrying goods twice their body weight up over this hill.
"Eventually the ANA noticed them doing it and gave a helping hand by carrying it themselves; that was good to see.
''The kids are great. You walk past them on patrol and give them a bar of chocolate and they light up.
"It's awesome to see."
Lance Corporal O'Haire admitted Afghanistan was a dangerous place but said it was becoming safer.
"You can walk through some villages and almost forget about the war that's going on.
"Life is normal."
He tries to call home once a week to speak with his mum Therese in Strathmore and dad Dennis in Richmond.
"Everyone is always happy to hear from me, but sometimes our conversations get cut short because I can't talk about everything I'm doing here," he said.
- Edited story supplied by the Department of Defence.