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Civil Affairs Sergeant Organizes Donations

By Spc. Dijon Rolle, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

GARDEZ PROVINCE, Afghanistan, April 11, 2005 – Rows of shoes stand at attention next to neat stacks of T-shirts and sweaters folded dress-right-dress. These items have all passed Sgt. Rena Brownridge's inspection.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sgt. Rena Brownridge, with Civil Affairs Team Alpha at the Gardez provincial reconstruction team, sorts a pile of recently received shoes. Photo by Spc. Dijon Rolle, USA

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

Brownridge, with the Gardez provincial reconstruction team's Civil Affairs Team Alpha, is in charge of sorting all of the boxes of humanitarian aid sent to the PRT. "I saw all the boxes just kind of sitting around and that was kind of it," she said. "I rolled up my sleeves and got busy."

Surrounded by mountains of shoes, clothing and toys, Brownridge methodically works her way through the piles, sorting items by size, color and even season.

"It's amazing some of the stuff we get. A lot of it is brand new or close to it," she said, smiling as she held a tiny red corduroy jumper at eye level. "A lot of the children here don't get toys. They're like little adults. It's hard for them to be children when they're already out working, supporting their families. Even if it's just a Beanie Baby or a box of crayons, I think it gives them a piece of their childhood back."

After sorting and re-boxing the items, Brownridge and her team take them to area villages. "We don't just go out and drop off boxes. We physically go out and give it to the people ourselves because we want to make sure that it actually gets to them," she said. "We also want to put a human face on our presence here.

"Some of these people have never seen an American soldier up close and they don't know what to expect," Brownridge explained. "It's important that we show them that we're people too and we're here to help them, no strings attached."

Team members help to "fit" each person with shoes and clothing, from children to adults. This is where Brownridge's efforts really pay off.

"It saves us a lot of time, because we already know what we have before we go out," said Staff Sgt. David Philbeck, the Gardez PRT Civil Military Operations Center noncommissioned officer in charge. "We can line everyone up and get started. There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes."

"She really does a good job with it," said Staff Sgt. Mark Matteson, Gardez PRT communications chief said about Brownridge.

Matteson knows firsthand the importance of organization. He started a "Shoes for Kids" program at the PRT. As a result, he's received hundreds of pairs of donated shoes from the United States for distribution in Afghanistan.

"It's a good feeling to be able to help, to contribute," she noted, "and it's even better when you know that soldiers like (Brownridge) and her team are going to make sure that these things get to the people who really need them."

This is Brownridge's second major deployment. She deployed to Iraq in 2003.

"I didn't really do any humanitarian aid there ... it was too dangerous," said Brownridge. "I mainly worked with the contractors and I did a lot of paperwork. For me, being here is completely different than when I was in Iraq. Here I have more direct contact with the people. I can see my efforts firsthand."

The majority of the donations received at the Gardez team come from individuals, businesses and churches in the United States. Several items have also come from the PRT soldiers themselves.

"I think I have the best job in the Army," said Brownridge. "I get to immerse myself in the culture and in the people. I've met so many women and children and I've seen a lot of smiling faces."

(Army Spc. Dijon Rolle is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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