A New Beginning of Hope
Due to the impact of war on this, one of the three poorest nations on our planet, the crisis of refugees is epic. Many refugees flee from the more violent states to find homes in calmer areas. Many flee the country and cross the Pakistani border, like so many of their previous generation. However, Pakistan has started to crack down on the border crossings and has limited its openness to Afghans.
Here at the Kabul Military Training Center, or KMTC, we have a range complex of over 14,000 acres. While much of this land is occupied with various firing lanes and ranges for small arms, crew served and indirect fires lanes, there is also areas that are predominantly used for maneuver exercises. some of this land has been used as a refugee camp for the past several months. The camp, now home to over 1,500 refugees of Southeastern provinces, exists on the Eastern border of the KMTC property.
Our public affairs officer, 1st Sgt. Don Weber, a close friend and experienced soldier, has been working with his Afghan counterparts over the past month, trying to coordinate an effort to alleviate some of the suffering of these homeless poor that live here among us. His efforts and those of the Afghan National Army soldiers he has worked with, came to fruition this morning.
Coordinating with the donated supplies manager at Bagram Airfield (BAF), home of our higher headquarters, the CJTF-76, Weber requested several tons of much needed food basics. Weeks later, we received over four tons of cooking oil, wheat, salt, sugar, and flour. On Friday, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Afghan Soldiers distributed the food stuffs into over 200 individual "Family Packs" so that each family on the list would get some of each of the supplies. Further, we packed over 200 two gallon sized plastic bags full of donated children's clothing, socks, jackets, blankets and stuffed animals. By the end of the afternoon, the team had filled two full CONEX Trailers full of supplies.
We got up early this morning only to see that it had been snowing since about 4:00 a.m. By the time we got over to the CONEX's to start loading the supplies in our seven and a half ton "International" trucks, the snow was coming down thick and wet. Our mission would take us on a several mile drive with over a dozen vehicles sent downrange in several serials. It was going to be cold and wet.
I gathered everyone together for a final review of our operational plan, reviewed key items like uniform (we would keep our armored vests, helmets and eye protection on), time lines, threat conditions and contingency plans in case we were to be engaged by enemy activity. Finally, we reviewed the most important rehearsal of any operations, "Actions on the Objective." In other words, how we would distribute the supplies.
My advanced team left at 8:00 a.m. along with the Military Police Officer, Maj. Chris Graves, and his team of 40 Afghan Military Police, loaded up in four Ford Ranger Pick-ups. We drove out through the snowy range, seeing lots of Afghan Army training happening in the frozen high desert. When we arrived in the area of the town, we had a problem we had not anticipated...the Malik (or mayor) that we had planned on linking up with to help us control the distribution and crowds was not there. Apparently five goats had either escaped the night before or had been stolen from their pen. This left us to deal with the brother in law of the Malik, a man named Wazir, likely for the province he came from. Through our interpreters, we explained our plan and that we would need his help to get the supplies distributed and the people controlled. We had a list of personnel that the Malik had approved earlier and we planned to call names and send people approved forward in order to maintain control of the maddening crowd.
Eventually, the Malik arrived and we explained our plan. We would have two distribution points, one for food, one for clothing. Our Chaplain's assistant, Specialist Henson, another great member of the team...how many Army Specialists, never mind Chaplain's Assistant's own their own Steakhouse restaurants in Kentucky?... Well, Henson (Coded named "Salvation Six") would do his best to control the kids and distribute candy and tooth brushes.
That rapidly spun out of control, as the grabbing and pushing and pulling and fighting is part of these kids lives. Henson did an admirable job of keeping them under control, withholding the goodies if they started to act poorly.
The food and clothing distribution, although we had some headaches with it initially, went very well. We had a solid security effort, and everyone had a job to do.
It took us about two hours once we got set up to get all of the supplies distributed and spread as much relief to these people as we could.
At the end of the effort, I asked the two Maliks and two of the elders to come forward. For their assistance and leadership, I presented each of them with a quilt that had been sewn by my mother and her friends of the Bandon Quilter's Guild. They were given to them to share with their wives and mothers and daughters. I explained that each of them had been woven by hand by fellow mothers and daughters back home and that the women would likely appreciate them most. The Malik, after kisses to my cheeks had firm handshakes and hugs, explained that he would give the quilt I had offered him to his mother in law, as she was always concerned that he wasn't providing enough for her...smart man.
Overall, we were about seventy people doing the best to make a difference to those that need the help the most. All of us felt that we made a difference and that was made the day into a great one.
We reloaded our vehicles, moved to an Rally Point away from the plying hands of the children, got a solid accountability and started our convoy back home. Once we arrived, we exited the vehicles, had a brief discussion about the pros and cons (we call this an AAR for After Action Report) of the day, then invited our Afghan counterparts to join us for an American Style lunch.