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Monday, July 09, 2007

Servicemembers supply aid to orphanage

3 July 07
By Pfc. Melissa M. Escobar
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Backpacks jammed full with school supplies, soccer balls, teddy bears, toys, hygiene kits, sandals and shoes were delivered to an Afghan orphanage in Mahmud Raqi district by members of the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team June 27.

National Guard Soldiers with the 351st Civil Affairs Command from Mountain View, Calif., along with the 1175th Military Police Company, 205th MP Battalion from Mississippi geared up and armed themselves with humanitarian supplies.

In the three months that the team has been in country, this was the first time they visited the orphanage.

"The governor of the province asked us to visit the orphanage," explained Army Capt. Jordan J. Berry, team leader with 351st CACOM. "The mission was a good-will gesture to strengthen ties with the community."

"It’s a positive thing," said Army Maj. Jim E. Blashford, a native of Grass Valley, Calif., with 351st CACOM. "It shows our ability to make a high impact by giving to those who could really use this stuff and shows that we’re not the bad guys. These kids have none of this stuff and it’s an obvious example of the United States doing good and being put in a good light."

While supplying the children with humanitarian aid supplies was the main event, the team took the opportunity to observe the orphanage’s facilities and asked the director if there was a need for anything else.

The director of the orphanage and the on-staff doctor who runs the small health clinic inside expressed the need for certain medicines and supplies for the children. Another concern that the director had was the quality of water that was coming from the nearby well.

"Finding out about their additional needs such as the medicine shortages and who is funding them is good for us to know," said Berry, a native of Dallas.

During the visit, the team also learned the facilities being used by the orphanage are being rented and only temporary.

"I would like to see a permanent building built for the kids," said Army Sgt. Valentin DeLeon, a civil affairs specialist with the Bargram PRT, who spent the day handing children backpacks and pumping up soccer balls. "I hope we can influence the governor to take more interest in improving the orphanage."

The Bagram PRT routinely meets with the Kapisa governor to discuss changes they feel necessary to improve the quality of life for the people of Afghanistan.

"It was a perfect opportunity to give to those who have an obvious need," said Blashford. "We have plenty to give away. This was really just a way for us to get our foot in the door."

"Everyday we see improvements in Afghanistan," said DeLeon, from San Jose, Calif., who hopes to watch the development of the orphanage. "I like doing my job and it’s awesome to see your projects grow and progress. It’s a good feeling."

Photo - Army Sgt. Valetin DeLeon, a civial affairs specialist with 351st CACOM, opens up a soccer pump to inflate a soccer ball for a child at the Kapisa Orphanage in the Mahmud Raqi district of Afghanistan during a humanitarian aid drop on June 27. Photo by Melissa Escobar.

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