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Marines Deliver School Supplies in Afghanistan

By Cpl. Rich Mattingly, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

NANGALAM, Afghanistan, Jan. 5, 2005 – U.S. Marines and soldiers manning a base along the Afghan-Pakistani border recently began a campaign to distribute much- needed school supplies to the children of Nangalam, Afghanistan, near one of their unit's forward operating bases.

"Whenever we can get out and we have the supplies to distribute, we go out," explained Spc. Chris Ifill, an Army civil affairs specialist from Philadelphia who has been attached to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. "It's been interesting working with Marines for the first time. They're focused more on combat, but they've been really receptive to integrating me into the unit."

The coupling of Marine and Army personnel has been effective in realizing the humanitarian portion of the Marines' current mission to stabilize and support the democratic government of Afghanistan.

"Having a civil affairs soldier with us has added another tool for us to interact with the local populace, a way to provide something to them that would otherwise be hard for us," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Yantosca, logistics chief and information operations officer at Camp Blessing.

Instead of adopting a purely combat-oriented mission posture, "America's Battalion" has become multi-faceted in its approach to its security and support mission in Afghanistan. By winning "hearts and minds," as the adage goes, the Marines and sailors currently operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom are able to undercut remaining support for insurgency in an area where attacks on coalition forces are not infrequent.

"When you start helping them, they start helping us out," said Ifill, "They can directly see the benefit of working with us when we can hand them supplies their children need."

"You've got to be able to flip the script," shared Yantosca. "One minute you're on a patrol, the next minute you're passing out school supplies."

On a trip last week to a school near Camp Blessing, Ifill and Yantosca passed out book bags full of pens, pencils and notepads to Nangalam school children.

The first thing most children who approach Marines in southern Afghanistan ask for is pens. Thanks to donations from private citizens in the United States, and the Commander's Emergency Response Program and Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid funds, the Marines can start to provide these supplies on a regular basis as Afghanistan still struggles to recover economically from decades of fighting.

Yantosca says the school supplies donations do more than just help Afghan children for the short term. "These children are the future of President (Hamid) Karzai's country," said Yantosca while distributing book bags to the smiling kids. "Building a relationship with the kids in this way means that as they get older, the relationship can be one of mutual respect."

(Marine Corps Cpl. Rich Mattingly is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.)

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