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Civil-Military Missions Helping Win War on Terrorism

By Spc. Claudia K. Bullard, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2004 – In some of the most remote areas in Afghanistan, things are changing.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Monty Willoughby, executive officer of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment (right), walks to the Shah Wali Kot school with Superintendent Lal Mohammad (left) after meeting to discuss needed renovations. Photo by Spc. Claudia K. Bullard, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Civil-military missions are taking medical assistance and resources for rebuilding to places like Shah Wali Kot, presenting a different approach to driving back the enemy and gaining the confidence of local villagers.

Army Maj. Monty Willoughby, executive officer of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, represents the variety of personnel and disciplines involved in civil-military missions. While accompanying a Cooperative Medical Assistance mission to Shah Wali Kot, he had the additional task of providing support and funding for re-opening a school that serves the children of several villages.

One of the main goals of a civil military mission is to provide a presence in the area, he said. This keeps anti-coalition militants moving. Keeping the enemy on the run is just part of the purpose of civil-military missions, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery Bridges, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Cooperative Medical Assistance missions originating from Kandahar Airfield.

Medical missions serve a dual purpose -- building relationships with village populations by bringing medical aid to outlying areas and providing a military presence during the rebuilding process. "In this way, we gain their confidence," said Bridges.

At another village, Haji Lalay Kalay, a CMA team has set up a temporary clinic just outside the village wall. Here, Army Capt. John Geise, a Combined Task Force Bronco physician assistant, and Romanian Army Lt. (Dr.) Tudor Vasicescu examine children at opposite ends of a litter set up as an exam table. The children wait obediently as Geise and Vasicescu, both members of Combined Joint Task Force 76, work through interpreters to make their diagnoses and dispense medicines.

The team mainly treats illnesses connected with unsanitary conditions. "We treat skin problems, bad teeth and lots of digestive problems from bad food. They give their children cow's milk, so they have dietary problems. We treat everyone for worms," said Vasicescu.

These conditions are prevalent in the rural areas of southeastern Afghanistan. Old habits are hard to break, even for people wanting to improve their conditions, said Bridges. "It is very hard to make people understand that they have to separate sewage, bathing and cooking, and they must boil their water."

The teams don't let this discourage them, however. Bridges is convinced that continuing to educate and increasing the supplies to the villagers will curb the problem.

To ensure the villagers continue this education, the teams have to re-visit the same villages. But no matter how many times a team has visited a village, team leaders continuously make security a top priority.

At Shah Wali Kot, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Danley, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Jeff Ritter, platoon sergeant for the Medical Platoon, and their interpreters take up positions at the gate. The interpreters help screen the villagers, admitting those who need care the most. Most of the villagers at the gate are children.

While the Shah Wali Kot CMA relied on U.S. soldiers for security, many CMAs team up with Afghan National Army troops. Afghan soldiers are responsible for crowd control and are a great asset, said Bridges. The ANA soldiers are able to quickly identify personnel who don't fit in, which helps to create a secure environment for the missions.

At Haji Lalay Kalay, medical personnel had the opportunity to see another benefit of working with the ANA. ANA and Romanian troops guarded the perimeter. Closer in, a few Afghan soldiers helped to keep the village children from creating disturbances. "We have a system for treating patients and the kids will go through it over and over by getting back in line," said Bridges.

An ANA soldier known to U.S. troops as Sadiq is an example of this type of involvement. A familiar figure on civil-military missions, his reputation as a fighter against former invaders and the Taliban is well known, and he is adept at creating order out of chaos. An imposing figure among Afghans, he orders the village children to sit on the ground in a semicircle while a medic and other ANA soldiers hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste. Soldiers like Sadiq enable the medical staff to concentrate fully on their mission.

Another element of the civil-military missions is the Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs units that determine where the missions should take place. Through village assessments, these units are able to determine what villages are most in need of help. Villages that exhibit a "progressive" attitude are more likely to have these types of missions coordinated, said one PSYOP soldier.

At Haji Lalay Kalay, one sign of progressiveness is the absence of burkahs, head-to-toe coverings traditionally worn by women in the country and still a common sight in the rest of southeastern Afghanistan. He points out the Afghan women in Haji Lalay Kalay are veiled only in scarves, even though there are U.S. soldiers present.

This progressiveness is a sign that the village is willing to change from ways imposed by the Taliban, and an indication the village is not likely to be sympathetic to the anti-coalition militias. Other signs of progressiveness are a willingness to educate women and girls and to lend a hand to improve their village. "The more progressive the village, the more we are able to help. We don't want to just give a handout," said the PSYOP soldier. "We want to go where we can do the most good."

(Army Spc. Claudia K. Bullard is a member of 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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