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U.S. Soldiers Help Afghans Help Themselves

By Spc. Cheryl Ransford, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Nov. 12, 2004 – The goal of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan is for the people to be able to stand on their own. In Khowst province, the Civil Military Operations Center is pioneering a way to speed up that process.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Randel Harris, a member of 551st Military Police Company, trains the local police force on proper riot-control techniques. Photo by Spc. Cheryl Ransford, USA

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

Reconstruction is still occurring, but here, the Afghan people are learning how to facilitate the projects through their own government's resources, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Edith Horn, a member of the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion and head of the Khowst CMOC.

"When we first arrived in Afghanistan, the people in the village would constantly come to us asking for schools and other projects to be done. Then we would take the request and make it happen," she said.

Now, the CMOC is helping the people understand how to use tools in place throughout the country for those kinds of requests. The Afghan government is made up of ministries and departments that handle everything from road construction and repair to medical facilities and schools.

"While most CMOCs and (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) are still handling the requests themselves, the people of Khwost are learning to rely on their own government," she said.

The process was slow to start, but now it has taken hold and the people seem very happy with the help and support they are receiving from the CMOC team.

Being able to work with and help the local population has been a rewarding opportunity for Army Staff Sgt. Randel Harris, of the 551st Military Police Company, who works with the CMOC team as a trainer for the local police force.

"They are very willing and eager to learn how to help and protect themselves," he said. "It is a wonderful experience to be able to see them be able to rely on themselves. You can see on their faces how happy they are to be a more independent people."

While the people in Khowst are happy to be more independent, they still need help with procedures and are glad the CMOC team is available to provide this assistance. "The people come to us, and they are happy to be able to receive the help they need to file the paperwork properly with the ministries and departments," said Horn. "We help gather information and assist them in preparing the information for the ministries."

The CMOC team is also teaching the local citizens how to get land rights and permission to build, as well as finding qualified teachers for new schools.

"The people are excited to be able to do the work themselves," said Harris. "Even though it's something new to them, they are learning the process quickly and not requiring as much help as they did in the beginning."

Once the ministries or departments have the requests, the head of the organization checks with the CMOC about actually completing the projects. For instance, if someone comes in with a request for a school, a road and a well, the CMOC personnel advise the villagers to select the projects that will help the village more.

"In this instance, if there are already several wells, we will focus on the schools and the roads," said Horn. "The schools are important because the children need to learn so the future of Afghanistan can continue to improve, and the roads are important because without roads the people can't get to the stores and the economy in the village will not grow."

The biggest part of the CMOC mission now is to get the ministry heads to work with the city-planning director, who is appointed by the governor, said Horn. "Right now, we are holding bi-monthly meetings with the city planner and the ministry heads," she said. "The ministries state their interest and priorities for what they want done in the village."

The most important part of the civil affairs mission in Khwost is that it focuses on the people, said Horn.

"The best part of what we are doing now is that the mission is about what they want for their villages, districts and country, not about what we want," she said. "It's great to see the people of Afghanistan stand up for what they want. Watching them grow is a beautiful experience."

(U.S. Army Spc. Cheryl Ransford is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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