From Afghanistan

Making a Difference

Today was a day the team was going to see a project through to the end. Everything actually went as planned. It all started when the Afghan National Police’s Chief came to us stating that he has numerous villagers who need assistance due to the harsh weather and hoping that the United States forces could help him to help his people.

It was the first unselfish act I have seen since I have been here. So the Police Chief sat down and wanted to go over the steps to get the assistance and make sure the aid went to the neediest villagers. We went over a plan which was simple; we would ask everyone and their grandmothers who was offering free humanitarian assistance for help. We then made sure the Afghan National Police (ANP) takes the lead on this endeavor with minimal help on our parts, mostly dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s.” We are here to mentor them, not perform their jobs for them.

Word had gotten out quickly that the ANP were actually here to help and many village elders jumped at the chance to help their villages. They came in groups of 10-20, from different regions of the area and in between the large groups, they even came alone. The ANP Chief sat down with each elder and listened carefully to their story and request. It rapidly became apparent that there was not enough aid for all the needy. But before the Americans could suggest a compromise to the Chief, he told the elders that what little assistance we had would be given out to the people who needed it most. He decreed that the villages that had lost the most would be visited first. Then, in each village, the elder was to provide the names of 10-20 families that had the greatest need and had endured the hardest losses. This way, with limited supplies, the people who were suffering the most would be first priority.

As you would expect, each elder started to plead the case that his village was the neediest and that he should receive the most assistance. Again the Police Chief rose to the occasion and explained that he would check each story and if the elder was lying, then that particular village would not receive priority when it came to listing the villages that could be helped. As if to prolong the debate, the elders argued about how much of a problem it would be to pick just 10-20 families in a particular village when some had as many as 150 families in dire need of the help. Without flinching the Police Chief explained that the villages had to come together to help each other out through the hard times. For the time being people had to put aside their differences and share, if this district was to stand a fighting chance.

In addition to the assistance we received in country, my wife collected numerous clothes and supplies from my local community back home. I told her that the people who donated would not be getting “Thank yous” from the Afghan people. Donated items would have to be handed out by the Afghan National Police or an organization that represented the Afghan government. This meant that when a child who has plastic bags as shoes is handed winter shoes, that child will perceive that the gift came from his own people and in return have faith in the current government system. My wife understood and we believe that all of you didn’t donate for recognition or a note of thanks – but to help those in need.

The Police Chief then set out a game plan to have his men (the ANP) and U.S. forces go out to the villages that were in most dire need. This was great because we saw this as a training opportunity. We sat down and explained how a Humanitarian Mission should be run from start to finish. We then went through a Mission Operations Order that incorporated everything from the pre-mission prep through the consolidation and reorganization after each mission. This showed the ANP and Police Chief how to prepare for a mission so that all the men involved would know what was going to happen and it also allowed the Police Chief to start planning for any possible problems that might occur. The U.S. team was in its glory going over charts and explaining the five paragraphs of a Mission Operation Order. It set in motion what most of us thought we would be doing when we arrived in country.

Everyone was on board except Mother Nature. She had her own plans and they didn’t include us. The night prior to the Humanitarian Mission it snowed six inches and the roads were in worse shape. We got the green light from the chain of command instructing us to do what we can while keeping the risk as minimal as possible. So my Major called the Police Chief and left the ball in his court. Again he stepped up to the plate and responded, “Let’s try to get to the close villages today and hopefully the weather will clear enough to get out to the farther villages tomorrow.” We are the Army and if the postman can do it so can we, we’ll just reduce the vehicle speed and if at anytime the Major feels the mission is not worth the risk then we can always go another day. But because of the weather the villagers need the assistance more now than ever.

We rolled up to the village and did our security first before getting out and starting the drop off. Even though we towed the food and clothes, we let the ANP jump up while the Americans stepped aside so the ANP could take the lead. People came out of their mud huts and started shoveling a walkway from the trailer to a court where the supplies could be held until handed out. The people thanked the ANP and blessed them for saving them in their time of need. It was what every person on the team wanted, for the ANP to look good and for the villagers to get some greatly needed assistance. Additionally, we helped set a foundation for how a mission should go. In the future the ANP can use this experience and mimic it so they will have success again.

So why after such a positive mission was the team not more elated? Because, after the Major gave the sign to mount up for a return convoy, we all sat in our vehicles and noticed that the huts had no smoke coming out of any chimney. We stood in our layers of clothes and I was still freezing, yet no one had a fire going. I know what you’re going to say, “You just gave them aid.” Yes, that’s true – we did. But as we looked to the villages on either side of the one we’ve just visited, we noticed they too didn’t have any smoke rising from their chimneys either. Essentially what we did was help one village and not another. I can only pray that the people of this country come together the way the Police Chief envisions and start helping each other out. Because we can’t save the people of Afghanistan until they want to save themselves.

As I remember the people coming out to help with the supplies I noticed the young were eager and so were the old. It gave me hope for the old, knowing what better times were like before the Russian invasion, and the young, always hopeful for a brighter future. If the ANP or any Afghan government organization can restore the faith of the people, then I would gladly help with every Humanitarian Assistance Mission and I would gladly never accept a thank you. What is the purpose of doing something good and right if you only want recognition? I will take solace in the fact that what we did today was a start and it is more than has been done for these people in many years. I can only hope to have many more days like this.

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