LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Capt. Jason Merchant, the company commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman from Dysart, Iowa, hands out cards Dec. (click for more)
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Spc. Lauren Hyman of Texarkana, Texas, armored vehicle driver for the 64th Military Police Company based at Combat Oupost Fortress, says hello to an (click for more)
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Gingrich, an infantry officer from Cedar Falls, Iowa, with Task Force Ironman, draws a smile from an Afghan boy as Gingrich (click for more)
LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Spc. Brian Stowe, a human resources specialist from Elkmont, Ala., with Task Force Knighthawk, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, sings a ballad he wrote and (click for more)
PAKTYA, Afghanistan – Servicemembers defend the wall after an improvised explosive device detonates on Forward Operating Base Lightning Dec. 5. (click for more)
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan and French military chiefs conduct a briefing before deployment during a security operation. Afghan National Security Forces and French Task Force Richelieu conducted Operation Montevideo (click for more)
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Phil Compton, Doty, Wash., Panjshir PRT engineer, and PRT local Afghan engineer Abid Wardak check the structural integrity of the retaining (click for more)
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan family looks at their new family member after she was delivered by the Polish Army medical team at Forward Operating Base Warrior Jan. 3. (click for more)
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, maneuver through Sabari District during patrols to disrupt insurgent activity in the (click for more)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Shawn Fouste, Decatur, Ill., noncommissioned officer in charge of the Freedom Restoration Center with the 455th Expeditionary Wing, Task Force Med, plays with (click for more)
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.
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|Afghan forces, TF Bastogne continue operations in Sherzad District|
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Bastogne, continued operations in the Sherzad District Jan. 8 clearing the village of Toto of insurgent fighters to reinforce a foundation of security in the area.
|TF Iron eliminates insurgent IED team|
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers form Task Force Iron Rakkasan and members of the Afghan Uniformed police, using the Precision Threat Detection System blimp at Forward Operating Base Andar, identified a group of insurgents with weapons and explosives Jan. 3.
|TF Iron Rakkasan uses PTDS to prevent highway robbery|
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Recently, Soldiers from Task Force Iron Rakkasan watched a member of the Afghan Uniformed Police conduct an illegal checkpoint on the route between Ghazni and Sharana. Using the camera system on the Persistent Threat Detection System, Soldiers observed a man standing in the road collecting money from vehicles. The practice is common by insurgents who fund their attacks by taking money from locals.
|Joint operation helps clear Sherzad of insurgent activity|
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and Soldiers from Task Force Bastogne began operations in the Sherzad District Dec. 23.