Afghan Children Stole First-time Father's Heart, Gave Life Perspective
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2002 Army Capt. Britton London said he's always loved children. But heading to Afghanistan in May while his wife was at home and pregnant really made him notice the circumstances Afghan children are living in.
London is a civil affairs team leader assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C. He looks the part of the career infantry officer that he is -- tall, broad-shouldered, clean-shaven. But his insights into the lives of children in Afghanistan -- and his honest admissions of how they affected him -- may not be so stereotypical.
"When I went over there, I didn't really know what to expect," the 15-year veteran said. "But after I arrived, the children of Afghanistan just stole my heart, especially the young girls."
He said he was horrified at the oppression Afghan girls had lived with under the now-deposed Taliban regime, and just as heartened at their recent introduction to societal freedoms and education.
"The girls had been oppressed for so many years, seeing (them) start school was just an awesome experience," London said in an interview during a recent Pentagon visit.
Spending time with the children of Afghanistan put his own life in perspective, he said. Britton Jr. was born about a month after London returned from Afghanistan. The new dad said he plans to teach his son to "appreciate the things he has and to help those who do not have so much."
He also said he hopes someday to have a daughter, so he can "sit her down and tell her how blessed she is to grow up in a society where women are equal."
London said any daughter of his will grow up appreciating her freedoms and hearing that "if ever she has the opportunity to help make that same situation anywhere else, then she needs to jump onboard."
He admitted his perceptions might have been colored by the impending birth of his first child. "Just to see these kids every day and to know I had one coming," he said, "I just wanted to be able to provide as much as I could for them."
He's in the right job to do that. Military civil affairs units work to build relationships with local populations and help them improve their own lot. London said he's grateful he was transferred from the infantry to civil affairs, because this assignment gives him an opportunity to help people in many ways. He also tries to spread the message to the American people that this country's help is needed in Afghanistan.
"I just try to convey to the people here that the people of Afghanistan were victims," he said. "They were oppressed for many years, and it's good that we're out there doing the job to make it better for them."
But still, the discussion came back to the children. Not quite to anyone in particular, he mused, "The children are so beautiful."