Deployment inspires folk singer song about Afghanistan

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Pierce Pettis interacts with children from the town of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan during a deployment there in 2010. Now a singer-songwriter, Pettis was inspired by his time at the foreigner for his music. (Pierce Pettis)

An American folk / country song about two young lovers on the run is a story as old as time. But this one has a twist: it’s set in Afghanistan.

“Lailly and Abdullah” is about Afghan youth in conflict with tradition and features a musician from Alabama singing “Allahu Akbar”.

The unique fusion of America and Afghanistan comes from Major Pierce Pettis, a National Guard who wrote the song after being inspired by one of his overseas deployments.

Pettis said he hopes his song will get people thinking about the lives of the Afghan people, who he says remain mostly unknown to Americans even after 20 years of deploying US troops there.

“Humans care about each other once we get to know each other,” Pettis said in a recent phone interview about the song, which recently featured on Grammy Award-winning Margo Price’s livestream. It has attracted hundreds of views on YouTube.

Pettis – who uses his middle name, Rayvon, in a performance – was deployed to northern Afghanistan in 2010 with the now disbanded 900th Maintenance Company in Alabama.

He returned from deployment and began a musical career, interrupted briefly by another deployment in 2013.

Joseph Harmon, who deployed with Pettis, said Pettis always strummed a low-end guitar.

“This place has left an indelible mark on us all,” said Harmon, now major of the 1200th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

As a young logistics officer, Pettis dabbled in civil affairs missions such as building schools and tried to leave the base as much as possible to speak with the people of Balkh province.

“He was always trying to learn more about Afghan culture from the locals,” said Dave Abdullah Ali, an Afghan American who served as an interpreter alongside Pettis.

The song comes from his experiences while deployed, but it’s not about a soldier.

The main characters are two young Afghan lovers who connect with the loss of their parents during the country’s decades of war.

Pettis said the song was inspired by a brief information he heard about two young people unable to marry because they were from different tribes. They were then killed by their families as they tried to escape, he recalls.

The main characters in Pettis’ song also come from different backgrounds. Abdullah is gunned down by a cleric and Lailly is gunned down on her hospital bed when a doctor tells her she needs to be realistic about life.

But Pettis adds another twist: a happy ending. As its original version ended sadly, Pettis said he reworked it after recalling conversations with Afghan friends about how too many Afghanistan stories end badly.

So Abdullah survives and the young couple escapes to start a happy life.

“The same way things can get horrible, they can get surprisingly wonderful,” Pettis said.

[email protected] Twitter: @ jplawrence3

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