Civil Affairs Teams Work for Afghanistan's Future
By Spc. Chris Stump, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
GARDEZ, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2004 After building countless schools, roads and wells here, coalition forces are routinely met with a thumbs up and a "How are you?" nearly everywhere around here and the surrounding province of Paktia.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Cook, team sergeant for Civil Affairs
Team Alpha 12, shares a laugh with a group of local boys during an assessment
near Jagi, Afghanistan. The CAT-A members use every opportunity to reach out to
Afghan youth and show the reasons the coalition is in Afghanistan. Photo by
Spc. Chris Stump, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The positive response wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the civil affairs teams working throughout the country to bring much-needed utilities and supplies to the war-ravaged area.
The road to reconstruction hasn't always been easy, but dedicated members of the Army Civil Affairs branch, working on Civil Affairs Teams Alpha -- called CAT-A teams, have brought everything they can to help the people and the government of Afghanistan.
"Our ultimate mission as civil affairs is to bring legitimacy to the government," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Cook, team sergeant of CAT-A 12 of the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion.
The team accomplishes its overall mission by helping communities build or rebuild -- one road, school or well at a time.
"Building something like a high school goes a long way toward showing the people the coalition is here to do good things," said Cook. "It definitely shows the younger generation. It's hard to change the views of grown generations who are set in their ways, but when we show the younger generations what we are about, they'll grow up with that and realize we're not the enemy."
That's the effect the soldiers in civil affairs want -- something that shows over time, not just in the present. "We're building a new orphanage and a city park in Gardez. Those will be here long after we leave, and the people can appreciate that," said Cook.
The CAT-A mission goes much deeper than just building structures in their efforts to improve the infrastructure of the country and its economy. "We're giving them the tools to help themselves," said Sgt. Samie Lizzio, CAT-A 12 civil affairs sergeant. "We're trying to get these people on the right track by giving them what they need to be successful after we're gone."
The CAT-A team also strives to think long-range. They think about how their projects will benefit the community now, as well as five, 10 and 15 years down the road.
"We start by helping a farmer with an apple orchard," said Cook. "Right now, he employs himself. But with a well, he can increase production, hire more people and have a good business. In 20 years, he could be employing up to 100 people - - a great economic improvement for the area."
It's that philosophy the CAT-A members take to every mission -- improve Afghanistan, one region at a time. "Every contract we award, the contractor must use a percentage of labor local to that area so that money stays in the local area," said Cook.
He said the team's projects rely on the "trickle-down effect."
"(The results) will all trickle down to the people," Cook said. "I've been all over this country. With all the resources they have, they could be one of the richest in the world. If we teach them how to bring it out, they will be successful."
Being a player in world commerce and reaping the benefits of a trickle-down- type system is a big deal to Afghanistan's citizens. "Afghans have been beat down for a hundred years," said Cook. "The people who are alive right now in this country don't know peace. If we can ease the burden and show them a better way, we're accomplishing our mission."
(Army Spc. Chris Stump is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)