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20090620-a-8640d-001.jpgLOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Dozens of children rush to their doors and windows to look out at the two lines of troops walking cautiously up the sides of the dirt road leading into their village.

As the troops approach Altimur Village, their uniforms stand out against the lush green backdrop of the fields. Most of the Soldiers veer off the side of the road and kneel to pull security, while a few go ahead to find the elders of the village; they have important matters to discuss and goods to give away.

The troops, members of the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, along with the Afghan National Police and Czech Army Soldiers, made the trip to the village, outside of Forward Operating Base Altimur in Logar province to distribute humanitarian aid, speak with village elders about the needs of the village, and, on the more practical side, to warn of the next day’s artillery exercise, in which the troops would shoot rounds onto a mountainside not far from the village.

As word spreads that the visitors are there to speak with the elders, old men with long beards and crisp white clothes slowly make their way out of their homes.  With the elders obviously not weary of the visitors, the children quickly descend from their perches and circle the crowd.
  
At the sight of so many small children, many carrying their even smaller siblings, Army Staff Sgt. Dwaine Hood, the Colt team chief for 3-71 CAV, drops to one knee and carefully pulls a bag of candy from his bag.

“My family sends me so much, I figure I can at least share some with the children,” Hood said with a smile.  The Olathe, Kan., native’s wife is due to give birth to their second child any day.  “Seeing the kids here reminds me of my daughter back home.”

The children certainly seem to appreciate the gesture of kindness as they reach out with eager hands and shout their thanks.
 
“Manana!”, the Pashtu word for thank-you, is shouted with an occasional, “Thank you!” sprinkled in by some of the children familiar with English.

While the children swarm around Hood, Army 1st Lt. Barry Klinger, platoon leader for Raven Platoon, is busy discussing more serious matters with the village elders.

“How do you get your water?  Do you have wells or do you use the surface water?” Klinger asks with the help of an interpreter. 

Potentially improving the village’s water management is only one of the many future projects being looked into during the day’s trip to Altimur.  After a quick discussion on the village’s water system, the elders excuse themselves and go into a nearby field to pray.

Klinger takes the opportunity to speak with the small children, who, at this point have taken quite an interest in the fair skinned, Loveland, Colo., native. 

“How many children go to your school?” Klinger asks, once again with the help of an interpreter.  Klinger listens patiently to the absurd answers served up to him with mischievous smiles.

“Four hundred,” one child shouted out in perfect English.  The small village appears to have maybe that many residents total.
 
Realizing questions of numbers are probably best left for the elders, Klinger began teaching his captive audience how to shake hands and give high fives.  Initially shy, young boys anxiously await their turn to slap the American’s hand after an interpreter helps to demonstrate.

The elders finish their prayers and make their way up to the road where their visitors were waiting.  Eager to show off their well-maintained village, the elders take ANP, Czechs and Americans on a tour. The Mosque and school stand side-by-side at the center of the village.  The school is locked and the man with the key far away, so the elders offer to break the lock.
 
“No, no that’s OK,” Klinger assures them as they gather in front of the building’s porch instead.

Children are sent away, so the adults can discuss the village’s needs.  They didn’t go far, however, and many slowly inch closer until stern looks chase them away.  The elders are excited to talk about possible improvements, but are skeptical citing past experiences with foreigners promising grand things and not producing.

“I understand how they feel,” said Hood.  “But I know our [head of civil affairs] personally and I’m sure he’ll win them over.”

With the children at a safe distance, the ANP unload boxes of school supplies and other odds and ends, which were given to the elders.
“We want to give them to you, so you can do with them as you see fit,” Klinger tells the elders.

But, as soon as the supplies are unloaded, the children run toward the school in an eager frenzy.  Elders try to maintain order as little ones are trampled by their older neighbors.  A few teenage boys try to help manage the chaos, handing books to crying toddlers.

Once the dust settles, and satisfied children take their prizes home, the group says their final good byes to elders and make their way back to the waiting MRAPS.  There is still packing and planning to do for the next day’s indirect fire exercise.

Although the village assessment and humanitarian aid distribution are important, the focus of the visit was to warn the village of the next day’s artillery shoot. Kinetic exercises are always important for sustainment of battle focus and are conducted on a regular basis, but making sure the locals who live in the immediate area are aware is important as well.

“We have to make sure our neighbors know what’s going on,” said Hood. “We not only want to make sure they are not afraid when the artillery rounds start to hit, but we want to make sure there are no people or livestock accidentally in our impact area when the rounds start to hit.”

In the past, wars have been fought with an emphasis on fighting and battle readiness. In today’s war, non-kinetic lines of effort are just as important as shooting artillery and killing the enemy. The support of the population can be invaluable when fighting against an enemy like the Taliban.

“Lots of Afghans are still afraid of the Taliban and what they may do to them if they find out they support our efforts to help,” said Klinger. “We have to work hard to gain their trust, which is why we go to such great lengths prior to an exercise. Telling them we will be shooting is a common courtesy we extend to neighbors, but it’s important we go the extra mile by handing out humanitarian aid and assessing their needs.”

The next morning, forward observers from Task Force Iron Titan and Task Force Wings and the Czech army, 3-71’s Squadron Command Sgt. Maj. and executive officer, and other eager Soldiers gathered to prep for the long walk up to an observation point outside of FOB Altimur to call for artillery rounds onto the mountainside.

From the observation point, high on a spur jutting out from the nearby mountains, forward observers could see the FOB, their intended target, as well as Altimur village.  The previous day’s meeting seemed to have been effective, as there were no villagers or livestock in the target area.
 
The afternoon echoed with the sounds of artillery fired from FOB Altimur’s gun line by TF Spartan’s artillery battalion, 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment.

“It’s good for us to get practice in whenever we can,” said Hood, who is a Forward Observer by trade. “I think it all went really well.”
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