It was an international activity as we convoyed about thirty minutes “outside the wire” to a nearby village in Afghanistan in December 2006. Our team was made up of Soldiers from my unit, the 25th Signal Battalion, as well as Soldiers from Base Operations (BASOPS) on Bagram Airbase. We were accompanied by 2 Polish gunners and met up with Soldiers from the Afghan National Army (ANA). We all converged on the small village of Jangadam to distribute clothes, shoes, gloves, scarves, hats and toys received from caring people in the United States.
The planning for this trip started several weeks before as I was making contact with BASOPS and the Post Chaplain for our Afghan School Project. As we discussed possibilities, it came together that we could participate in a Humanitarian Civil Assistance (HCA) mission that month. I jumped on this as a great opportunity to not only help the people of Afghanistan but also give my Soldiers a reason for being here. Seeing who we are trying to help gives motivation to the day-to-day work our Soldiers are engaged in.
As we prepared for the mission, we were told that there were about 250 families in the village. We obviously wouldn’t be able to give everyone a new wardrobe, but we could provide some help that could maybe get them through the winter. We took supplies for that 250 families then when we arrived found out that there were many more who had gathered in hopes of receiving some assistance. About half way through our distribution, we had to cut back from giving two bags (the size of a plastic grocery bag) to just one per family hoping it would stretch our gifts to cover the whole crowd. Next we ran out of socks, then hats, then finally nearly everything was gone.
We were fortunate in that the village elders were in charge of the crowd and we distributed the gifts at their direction. They kept the crowd under control and with them giving the supplies they were strengthened in their roles in the village and it helped to give a positive view of our forces for those who have so much influence with the people. Even with their help, as we packed up, there were some children who were disappointed and even angry that they didn’t receive anything. We were saddened by the number of children with bare, cold hands that we didn’t have enough gloves to cover. I was determined to get more and come back before winter was over.
But even with those who we could not help, the ones whose names were called, as they went through the line receiving their allotment, clumsily uttered probably 2 of the few English words they knew, “Thank you.” It was nice to see the smiles on their faces as their names were called and it was their turn to go through the line. It made me and my Soldiers feel good that we could do something to help, even if it was just for a few. At least some Afghans would be a little warmer that week.
Before we left, the village elder thanked me for coming to his village and giving what we could. He told me to let him know if he could do anything for us.
That struck me as very strange.
It was very clear that they had so little and we had so much, but he offered his help to me. It showed me how much he, and his village, appreciated the little bit that we could do.