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KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan—The Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team has begun a new initiative to work with local Afghanswho live in the communities surrounding Forward Operating Base Wright, in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, to keep trash from polluting the river and piling up in the nearby covert denial grates.
The Cash for Work program utilizes the Commander’s Emergency Response Program bulk funds and is the first of its kind to be used by the new PRT, who took command March 11.
According to U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christina LeMond, Kunar PRT Civil Affairs Team civil military operations center noncommissioned officer in charge, the program is two-fold.
“For one, it ensures that the culvert denial is a benefit and not a hindrance to the locals, and secondly, it gave them the tools to help put more money into their village by working to keep it clean,” she said.
Previous U.S. forces in the area built the culvert denial, a grate at the entrance and exit of the culvert, to prevent the placement of improvised explosive devices within the water ways. Trash running down the river was getting caught in the grate and building up, creating a make shift dam and in turn, flooding out the crops of some of the villages and blocking the water from running its course.
“If somebody stuck an IED in there, where the kids play, a lot of people would be hurt,” LeMond said. “They’re targeting us but it would hurt them too. That’s what [the culvert denial grate] is primarily in place for, for both of us, but it’s hard to convey that. We’re giving them the tools to also help protect themselves.”
As the water was building up some of the locals wanted to remove the grates. In this situation, since the excess water was impeding the local’s ability to grow their crops, the PRT commander, along with his civil affairs team and engineers, came up with the idea of utilizing CERP bulk funding. These funds are a specified resource each commander has that can be used in cases that provide help to people.
The CERP was implemented to give commanders the ability to immediately execute funds, within the programs guidance, to provide tangible results within their areas of operation. In this case, the idea was to give the money to the village elders to employ laborers.
“Giving the support to the elders empowers the Afghan people, helping enable them to take care of their own village,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph Ladisic, Kunar PRT Civil Affairs Team program manager.
It also allowed the money to be dispersed throughout the village, and not just to one hired person or contractor. LeMond met with the elders and proposed the plan. The elders later returned with a list of workers and supplies they would need to complete the job.
“They were very, very appreciative once we worked out the details,” LeMond said. “At first they thought we were going to tell them how to do their jobs. Instead, we want to keep it as transparent as possible. We want everybody to see that the money is going to the elders and let them figure it out and come up with their own plan.”
Additionally, since this is the first project of its kind this team has implemented, they will continue to visit the villagers to make sure they are satisfied and try and get feedback on how the program working.
“From what I gathered they were very pleased,” Ladisic said. “They were excited we are taking an interest in them and trying to help them better their village.”
Many of the more than 100 local workers on Camp Wright come from the nearby villages. According to LeMond, continuing to build good relations with our neighbors is the base’s first line defense.
“In our general area, the villagers around here are very appreciative,” LeMond said. “They thank us every day, every time they see us. Now, we just want to continue making the relationship better.”
“They know when things are going to happen,” Ladisic added. “Hopefully they will help us in turn like we are helping them.”
In addition to Cash for Work programs, which include cleaning trash from the nearby university, several other relationship building projects are in the works.
For LeMond, her next mission is to check in on the local school kids, where they are going to school and making sure that the buildings built for them are actually being utilized by them. The civil affairs team will also be continuing a pen pal program between the children here and children in the U.S. a previous military unit had been running.
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