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PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Operation Outreach Gardez volunteers toss candy to local children during a mission outside Forward Operating Base Lightning near a Kuchi encampment in Gardez District Oct. 24. (Photo by U.S. Army Cpt. Kenneth Stewart, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It was sometime in late summer, recalls U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Robert Thelen from Oconomowoc, Wis., a senior advisor with the NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan - CJ4, that two goat herders from Ghazni Province arrived at the Paktya Regional Medical Hospital. They had been injured by indirect fire - collateral damage in the crossfire of war.

A few days after their arrival at the hospital, the news reached Thelen. Once he heard about their situation, he immediately went to his storage container.

“We went to our conex and got a couple of backpacks. We filled them with shoes, a wristwatch, school supplies and a couple of other things,” said Thelen. “We brought it over to them and just chatted with them for about an hour.”

Thelen calls his experience with the two goat herders an “eye-opening event.”

“One kid got to go to school,” Thelen said. “The other one has been working since he was six or seven because his parents died of illness. He’d never been able to go to school.”

This isn’t Thelen’s job, it’s his passion - a passion that inspired him to begin Operation Outreach Gardez when he arrived in Afghanistan in July.

OOG is an outreach mission supporting the community around Forward Operating Base Lightning where Thelen is stationed. OOG targets primarily women and children, supplying them with aid such as school supplies, blankets, shoes and toys.

OOG is an adaptation of a larger program, Operation Outreach, at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan. That program involves Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilian contractors working to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by volunteering their time assisting Afghans with complicated medical needs and supplying them with basic survival items. By changing the focus from medical to educations, Thelen was able to adapt the larger program to FOB Lightning’s smaller size. Though focused on education, OOG also distributes basic survival items as well as toys and stuffed animals for children.

Since its inception, OOG has supplied a girls school with backpacks and school supplies, aided two hospitalized goat herders and recently made a trip into a Kuchi encampment to deliver toys, stuffed animals, blankets, candy and backpacks filled with school supplies to local children.

“A lot of (Afghans) are underprivileged and don’t have the opportunity to be educated or don’t have the supplies,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Richard Hammons from Greenwood, Ind., a Soldier with the 2/44th Air Defense Artillery who was part of the recent mission to the Kuchi encampment. “This is just one way of being able to help empower the local people so their children can have a better opportunity and a better chance for an education.”

Programs like these are an example of how servicemembers are partnering with local communities to form symbiotic relationships. Servicemembers support local communities and, in turn, gain their support. It is these relationships that enable Afghans and Americans to forge ahead toward a free, independent and self-sustaining Afghanistan.

“This organization isn’t large,” said Thelen. “This organization isn’t going to change the world… but we’re hoping it starts a spark and people start to see this is important.”

OOG may be a small operation; however, in a nation where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and a mere 28.1 percent of the population is literate, every little bit helps.

“It is not a matter of how many people we impact at one time,” said Hammons. “But of how those people impact others.”

OOG continues to impact local Afghans in the Paktya region, with plans to distribute more aid, including shoes and blankets, for the coming winter months. It is this willingness that caused Thelen to sit in a hospital with two goat herders from Ghazni to positively impact their lives in hope they might impact others.

For those two goat herders, the watch they received was the first watch either ever owned. The backpacks were their first ever. And they would return home the only two people in their village with shoes. That is impact. That is OOG.PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - A young Afghan girl near a Kuchi encampment in Gardez District smiles holding a blanket and backpack she received from Operation Outreach Gardez during a mission Oct. 24. (Photo by U.S. Army Cpt. Kenneth Stewart, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Young boys near a Kuchi encampment in Gardez District gather items they received from Operation Outreach Gardez during their recent mission Oct. 24. The children in the village received backpacks, school supplies, blankets, candy, toys and stuffed animals from OOG. (Photo by U.S. Army Cpt. Kenneth Stewart, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Children from a Kuchi encampment near Gardez District crowd around an Operation Outreach Gardez convoy Oct. 24. The convoy came to their encampment to distribute backpacks, school supplies, blankets, candy, toys and stuffed animals. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Derek Nelson, 17th Public Affairs Detachment)


Last Updated on Sunday, 07 November 2010 22:18


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