Servicemembers Volunteer to Convoy Supplies to Needy Afghans
By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan , Aug. 4, 2007 Every other week, servicemembers from all branches of the military conduct convoys from this base to deliver clothing and supplies to needy Afghans in the surrounding areas. But they're not doing it because they have to. They're doing it because they want to help.
Members of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan unload a truck full of donations from the U.S. at a refugee camp outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“These are military and coalition members who volunteer,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Weber, Camp Eggers garrison chaplain. “They participate on their own time and at their own risk to do something good for the people of Afghanistan.”
The chaplains on Camp Eggers have organized the deliveries as part of a community relations program. Working with local religious leaders, as well as various government and relief agencies, the program organizers plan their missions to deliver aid to areas most in need of the assistance.
Under the program, servicemembers visit a new location every two weeks. Once a location is determined, the organizers and volunteers meet a few days before the trip to sort the items sent over from the United States.
“Donations come in mostly through word of mouth, from people stationed here telling others back in the States,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Fred Hays, religious program specialist and chaplain’s assistant. “We get donations from schools and churches, too.”
Normally, the group averages about 20 large boxes filled with clothing, personal hygiene items, medical supplies, school supplies, food and blankets. Recently, the group donated about 2,000 pairs of shoes to a local village.
“Putting smiles on these young people’s faces, that’s the main thing,” said Hays. “If we can win the younger generation’s hearts in this war [against terrorism], we’ll be able to win this war because the younger ones will be taking over for us. Show them kindness and that kindness can be returned.”
During a recent trip to a refugee camp, the volunteers interacted with the Afghan families who showed up to watch them unload the boxes. Some military members passed out candy and soccer balls, while others gave high-fives and danced with the children.
A few translators were on hand, including Mohammad Khan, assistant director of Sozo International, a U.S.-based relief agency that supports this particular camp, which contains 585 families. Each of those families average six to 10 members.
Khan said many of the displaced Afghans had been living in Iran and Pakistan, as well as throughout Afghanistan, before ending up at the camp.
“This plot of land was designated to put about 13,000 [displaced] families,” Khan said. “As you can see, they are pretty isolated out here from the rest of the population. The wind and the sun make this place very difficult to live. Their greatest need is for water and shelter. They were provided a water pump, but the hand pumps are not working properly out here. They are now getting their water from a tank and distributing water that way.”
Khan said that the camp’s mullahs appreciate the donations from the Americans. “They understand that the Americans bring what they can offer and they are thankful for that,” he said.
Navy Capt. James Fisher, Combined Security Transition Command Afganistan chaplain, said he is proud of the volunteers and the work they do for the Afghan people.
“We do want to help those who are in need,” Fisher said. “In a large sense, this represents the heart of America to the people here. When you see this country brutalized by war and the Taliban, who are thugs and thieves who kill people, you don’t see much spirituality. You don’t see much compassion. These soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors are just good-hearted military people. They want to make a difference.”
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein is a journalist assigned to U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs.)