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Military Police Donate Smiles in Afghanistan

By Senior Airman James Bolinger, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 28, 2008 – Though coalition forces provide necessary public facilities such as schools and health clinics to develop Afghanistan, sometimes it’s simply a smile, handshake or friendly greeting that makes a difference in people’s lives.

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Army Sgt. Heather Slater, deployed from 367th Military Police Company, in Horsham, Pa., helps an Afghan boy Feb. 25, 2008, at the Egyptian hospital at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Slater and several other servicemembers from the 724th MP Battalion visit patients at the hospital every Sunday. Slater, who’s been deployed to Afghanistan for eight months, is a student at Castleton State College in Vermont. Photo by Senior Airman James Bolinger, USAF

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

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Joe Gotshall and several members of the 724th Military Police Battalion regularly visit the Egyptian Hospital here to meet with Afghan patients and share a few snippets of conversation and sometimes a stuffed animal or a coloring book and crayons.

“We are limited in what we can communicate because of the language difference,” the chaplain said, “but smiles and handing out items the Afghans can use are easily translated from one language to another.”

Gotshall said that when he arrived in Afghanistan in January 2007, MPs already were visiting Afghan patients every Sunday. The Egyptian hospital treats 400 to 500 Afghans every week, some of whom require an extended stay.

The mission is small, he explained, with five to 10 military personnel -- including soldiers, sailors and airmen -- handing out candy, toys, school supplies, personal hygiene items and stuffed animals.

Troopers here have a difficult job, Army Lt. Col. Paul Noblin, 724th MP Battalion commander, said. Military police, and law enforcement officers in general, often become cynical because they encounter individuals under emotional duress, in stressful situations or who have violated the law, he explained. By visiting the hospital, Operation Care and other humanitarian assistance activities, he said, servicemembers get a chance to interact with the Afghan people in a positive light, provide humanitarian aid and bring smiles to their faces.

Noblin said the visits remind him of his own young children back home. “I take pictures of the kids here and send them to my children back home so they can see that kids here are like them,” he said.

Army Sgt. Heather Slater, a corrections officer deployed from 367th MP Company, in Horsham, Pa., attributes the success of the humanitarian visits to her friends and family in the states.

“Everything we take to the hospital comes from the states, one box at a time,” said Slater, who attends Castleton State College in Vermont. “I am a double major in social work and sociology. I have always loved helping those who are less fortunate – which, in this case, is an understatement for the people in this country.”

The hospital cares for hundreds of Afghan children, and for many servicemembers it’s the smiles on the faces of the next generation of Afghans that keeps bringing them back to the hospital every week.

“It is the most gratifying feeling in the world to see the smile on the faces of these people who have nothing, yet they are more than satisfied with something as simple as a hand-me-down stuffed animal or a pair of socks,” said Slater, who has been in Afghanistan for eight months. “I am a sucker for the children especially; I wish I could take them home.”

Leaving a positive and lasting impression of coalition forces on the Afghan people is a primary goal of troops in Afghanistan.

“Thanks to our friends and families at home, we are able to make a continuous effort to change the hearts and minds of the Afghan people,” Slater said.

(Air Force Senior Airman James Bolinger serves with Combined Joint Task Force 82 Public Affairs.)

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