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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Real Kite Runners flying the Afghan Skies

6 July 07
By Army Spc. Micah E. Clare
4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 82nd Airborne Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan - Even though best-selling books have painted pictures of Afghan children flying colorful kites high in blue skies against backdrops of snow-capped mountains that tower over quaint villages, not all Afghan children are fortunate enough to own such simple, yet wonderful toys.

However, when the Polish Battle Group arrived in Ghazni province’s Andar district near the end of June, the local children were finally able to take part in an activity shared by children in almost all countries in the world: flying kites.

While conducting patrols throughout Andar district during Operation Maiwand last month, the Polish soldiers of 1st and 2nd Platoons, Company B of the Polish Battle Group, made many humanitarian aid deliveries to the poor families living in the area. The extreme poverty of some of the areas was quite a shock to many of the Polish.

"It seems like time stopped here 2,000 years ago," said Polish Pfc. Chris Demko, a gunner on one of the giant Rosomak armored personnel carriers. "We see these kids running around with nothing, not even shoes, and we want to change that."

Everywhere they went, children crowded around the vehicles as the smiling soldiers pulled out boxes of shoes, clothes, school supplies and toys. But the biggest hit of all were the multi-colored kites that the soldiers unfolded for them.

With big grins and excited chattering, the children jumped up and down shouting, "Patang! Patang!" (the Pashto word for kite.) Soon the sky had several of the yellow, green and red kites with International Security Assitance Forces logos flying, much to the delight of the children dancing around below.

"These kites are so much fun," said Mahmad-Amid Hahn, a 12-year- old boy, as he made whooping sounds while his kite dipped and swerved in the air. "The Taliban would never give us these things." For the children who had never seen a kite before, some of the Polish soldiers stepped in to assist, unfolding the kites and showing them how to take off with a running start to get it airborne.

"Any time spent with children is a good thing," said Polish Pfc. Michal Ozog-Warclaw. "It is wonderful to see children who have been through so much with smiles on their faces."

Ozog-Warclaw, who has a daughter of his own back home in Poland, spends as much time as he can with her when he is home. "I spent many days playing with her just like this in the park, or forest," he recalled.

While the children enjoyed their kites and new shoes, the Polish also gave out school supplies as an encouragement for them not only to play, but to learn and attend nearby schools. The soldiers hope that their presence and influence in these areas will be able to help change an environment where the Taliban threatened parents against sending children to school.

"It is sad, because most children here have not had the same opportunities that my own daughter does," Ozog-Warclaw explained. "It is not their fault either. Back in Poland, my daughter is developing in school in a safe, loving community where she is free to learn, play, and interact. Every person should have access to these things, because being educated is a weapon against people who would tell you to be something you are not."

While the small youngsters who were screaming with excitement have many things to face as they grow older in their still unstable country, the pristine scene of children flying kites, completely free to enjoy their youth, still feels like it could come out of the pages of a book.

"We’re simply helping them make their lives better," said Polish Maj. Thomas Stachera, commander of Company B, while watching the children playing as his men prepared to move on. "I believe this to be a picture of what these people really want, a stable, peaceful, productive society," he said. "These children are the ones who will be able to make it happen."

Photo - Two Polish soldiers from the 1st Platoon, Company B, Polish Battle Group, show an Afghan boy how to fly his new kite June 24, 2007, in Andar District, Ghazni Province. Photo by Spc. Micah E. Clare.

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