U.S. Army Pfc. Christina Carde: A Mom's Mission
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jan. 29, 2003 When Army Pfc. Christina Carde received deployment orders for Afghanistan, she was ready to go -- even though it meant leaving her 3-year-old son.
"I was in Manhattan on Sept. 11," she said. "I stood a few blocks away and watched the Twin Towers burn to the ground. That made me realize there were people out there that need to be stopped."
Carde, a New Jersey native, was already slated to go on active duty, having enlisted in the Army to earn college benefits and improve her family's lot in life. Witnessing the terrorist attack only strengthened her resolve.
"I thought about my son and what could happen again if we didn't do something," she said. "That's what made me go ahead with my conviction to join the Army."
Carde now works as a print journalist and still photographer with the Army's 11th Public Affairs Detachment at Fort Polk, La. In mid-December, the detachment deployed to Afghanistan. She left her son at home in northern New Jersey with his dad.
"It was difficult leaving," she recalled. "My son was only two years old when I enlisted, and he didn't understand. I think he's become more accustomed to it now."
Carde was in basic training and Advanced Individual Training for about eight and a half months. Her son was then with her again for five months before she deployed to Afghanistan for six months. "In total," she said, "by the time I get back I'm going to have been away from him a third of his life."
These days, Carde lives in what the troops call a "hooch."
"It's basically a heated tent that can house about 8 to 10 people," she said. "It's not that bad. It's like a regular barracks room. You can put whatever you want in there -- a TV, DVD player. It's got heat in the winter and it's supposed to have air conditioning in the summer.
"From what I understand, things are a whole lot better as far as commodities and food and everything from when people first got here," she added. "They were using buckets for latrines. Things aren't that bad here now. A couple nights ago we had Outback Steakhouse. They came to our dining facility and we had the blooming onion and steak."
Carde said she was surprised by what she's encountered the five or six times she's gone out into the Afghan community on humanitarian missions.
"When you first come to this country, you think you're going to see a bunch of terrorists running around wanting to kill you. But it's the exact opposite," she said. "The Afghan people suffered from the Taliban and the terrorists even worse than we did. We lost two towers. They've lost their whole lives."
The soldier said she's seen conditions far different from those she's seen elsewhere.
"You see the Afghan people and it really makes you appreciate what you have back home," she said. "My son has all the clothes, all the toys and everything he could possibly want, and here you've got these poor little kids with potbellies from starvation. And you see it on a daily basis. You really need to stop and think what Americans take for granted, the stupid stuff they complain about every day."
Poor sanitation and the lack of basic infrastructure and medical care contribute to the Afghans' plight, according to Carde.
"It's so dirty out here, things get infected quickly," she said. "Just the smallest thing -- the common flu, a scratch, or something, can get so infected it looks like they were shot or something. Their wounds are just horrendous, and they came from a simple scratch or a fall.
Afghans with serious medical problems are being treated at Bagram Air Base, where the 48th Combat Support Hospital from Fort Meade, Md., has surgical capabilities. There, Carde said, she's seen the legacy of the past two decades - - small children maimed by stepping on land mines.
"This country has been through 23 years of war -- with the Russians, with the Taliban," she said. "You see bullet holes in these people's homes. Their homes have been attacked. Their women and children have been killed. These people have gone through a lot, and they're just really happy to see us here."
Invited into the homes of village elders and council members, Carde said she's found the Afghans to be "very hospitable people, very nice people. They're very giving, and they're extremely grateful that we're here to help them out."
Now that the Taliban has gone, she said, people are coming out and trying to rebuild their community. "They really are trying hard. There's a lot of jobs offered for contractors on Bagram Air Base, and they get first priority even above the American contractors, which I think is a good thing."
Carde said she's empathized with the Afghan women.
"I read somewhere that before the Taliban took over, 50 percent of Afghanistan's work force was women," she said. "Then when they took over, they took all the jobs away from the women. That's how everybody got thrown into poverty, because a lot of women were widows and they were the only source of income for their household."
Now that women are free of the Taliban, she said, many still maintain the tradition of wearing the concealing blue burka.
"A lot of the women are so used to it they don't want to take it off," Carde said. "The liberty is there now for the women. If they want it, it's there and they can take advantage of it."
She compared her role in society to that of the Afghan women.
"As a female soldier coming out here, I see what these women have to go through. I'm sitting here in uniform with a weapon and their men are looking up to me. That is just something that I thank God for, and for that reason, I'm happy to be an American troop, an American woman."
Carde said the deployment is fulfilling a life-long desire to travel, yet she longs for her own land.
"I come from a really strong Puerto Rican culture, so I miss family get-togethers," she said. "I miss that whole togetherness of family and being around people I grew up with. I miss the food. I miss the music. I miss the dancing. I miss my car. I miss going out -- and
"I miss my son."