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On the Ground: U.S. Troops, Civilians Bring Goodwill to Afghanistan

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2009 – Even as military efforts increase in Afghanistan, coalition forces reach out to Afghan civilians with humanitarian aid, job training and other supportive efforts.

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Jose Garzon, left, and Ted Whittenberger, right, both with the U.S. Agency for International Development, pose in front of the Konar Construction Center honor graduates with Gov. Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi of Afghanistan’s Konar province, Jan. 18, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Russell Gilchrest
  

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

U.S. soldiers distributed more than 300 backpacks filled with clothes, shoes, school supplies and hygiene items to high school students near Bagram Airfield on Jan. 22. The backpacks were donated by Americans throughout the United States after soldiers serving with U.S. Forces Afghanistan asked for the items through a program dubbed “Operation Backpack” that was posted on a Web page.

The program coordinator is a Special Forces soldier who said the program was a collaborative effort among him and several others in the unit. The main reason to start the program was "to help alleviate human suffering, and demonstrate American goodwill to the children of Afghanistan,” one of the organizers.

Winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, he added, was another inspiration. "We want the Afghan people to see that the American people care about them."

U.S. officials in Afghanistan’s Konar province saw the success of their efforts Jan. 27 when the Konar Construction Center graduated 116 local workers in the eastern region of Afghanistan, including several from nearby provinces such as Laghman and Nuristan.

The center, which is locally owned and operated, teaches Afghans construction techniques including masonry, electrical work, rebar tying, painting and carpentry.

Workers who graduate are highly sought-after in the local economy, with a 100 percent placement success rate. In fact, the second graduating class had 136 graduates and 172 available jobs to choose from.

"Before, we were going to Pakistan for goods like furniture. Now we have more skilled and educated workers that can do it here in Konar," Konar Gov. Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi said. "We can only hope that one day we can do the same thing for business and agriculture."

PRT Konar has high hopes for the upcoming development of the KCC. Already, it has received a shipment of equipment to conduct material testing. Currently, material testing has to be done in more developed regions of Afghanistan or taken to Pakistan. Soon, qualified personnel will be able to do this work for a competitive fee.

Also, teachers are preparing to teach advanced courses. Tuition will be paid by the student’s employer. All proceeds will help maintain the costs of the facility, allowing it to be self sufficient.

The center also has started implementing English classes, its first teacher arriving within the past month. Local construction companies also use the KCC structures to provide foreman or business classes to their employees.

The initial costs, provided by PRT Konar, total $200,000 to rehabilitate and refurbish an abandoned construction site with a barracks for students and two instruction bays for classes. The U.S. Agency for International Development continues to provide monthly funding to the school for classes.

(Compiled from U.S. Forces Afghanistan news releases.)

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U.S. Forces Afghanistan

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArea children gather around a coalition forces truck loaded with more than 300 backpacks and other school supplies as it enters the Gulam Ali Boys and Girls School in Bagram, Afghanistan, Jan. 22, 2009. Army photo by Sgt. Lynne Eickstedt  
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