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PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Five project sites, two meetings, a soccer match, an impromptu shura, and a lot of off-road driving made for a busy day for the civil engineers of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team, March 27.
The civil engineer team, based out of Forward Operating Base Lion, currently has more than 35 working projects and many more in various stages of the recommendation and approval process.
Having so many projects comes with a hefty price tag of quality assurance and quality control visits. The day started with an inspection of the Massoud Technical School Dormitory site.
The team next went to the Khenj District Center and split their efforts. One part of the group went to meet government officials at the district center, while another group looked at the construction site of the Khenj Communications Center. During their respective meetings, the members of the PRT, including a mujahedeen guard, who remained with the vehicles, were drawn into a soccer match with some local kids.
“It felt like playing in a stadium because there were so many kids around,” said Spc. Allison Cherkosly, a civil affairs specialist with the Panjshir PRT. “At first there was only like eight of them playing. I had some lollipops, so I was handing out the lollipops. Then they asked me to join them and play.”
Cherkosly joined in the game, which soon grew larger. One of the kids took charge and organized a team to challenge the visitors.
“There was one kid who was the boss,” said Cherkosly. “He picked out his team, and by that time, the engineers were out there, so it ended up being 10 of us playing 10 of them.”
By the time all parties arrived back at the vehicles, at least 100 children were either playing in the game or supporting their favorite players through cheering and clapping. Even the PRT’s interpreters got involved in the match. Much to the dissatisfaction of the kids, the PRT had to depart for their visit to the Pawat School construction site.
Shortly after arriving at the Pawat School, a crowd began to form around the PRT members. While Ghulam Hazrat, the contractor building the school, showed the PRT around the site, more and more village children and adult males arrived.
Hazrat explained that he was having problems finishing the school because the children were entering the building and getting in the way of his workers. An impromptu shura took place.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Panjshir PRT commander and Capt. Phillip Baker, a civil engineer with the Panjshir PRT, engaged the local elders and listened to their concerns. After a long meeting, the real problem became evident to the PRT members.
“The contractor was worried about us holding him liable for any damage done to the school by the kids before the final inspection,” said Baker. “All three parties involved wanted a good final product and for the school year to get started. The contractor, principal and village elders agreed on measures so both could happen, and the PRT agreed not to hold the contractor liable.”
While the commander and senior engineer were talking with local leaders, a larger group formed around the PRT members who weren’t involved with the shura. A small boy pulled out some green rocks to sell. Within a few minutes, many more pulled out papers wrapped around what would be emeralds for sale.
“Khenj is known for its emeralds,” said 2nd Lt. Jason Adams, a civil engineer with Panjshir PRT. “It’s common for kids in the Mokini Village to have emeralds for sale.”
After the school, the team had a lunch meeting with a road contractor to discuss some problems, a visit to a Russian contractor-built dam, and a meeting with a contractor at a troubled retaining wall.
“Something that stood out in my mind about today happened at the soccer game,” said Baker. “The handshake at the end of the game was a lot deeper than just a show of good sportsmanship.”
The Panjshir PRT will continue to remain busy with many projects throughout the province. As the Panjshiri people continue to support their military and civilian guests, the PRT will continue to engage in projects and relationship-building events.
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