Visit to Khowst
Greetings from Bagram, Afghanistan! Some of you have asked me if I will still travel now that I am assigned to a Civil Affairs unit here in Bagram. The answer is, “Yes!” Only 15 of our 200 personnel are here at our headquarters in Bagram. Being Civil Affairs people, the rest of our soldiers are assigned out at FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) all over the NE part of Afghanistan.
I just retuned from a four-day visit to one of our FOBs, named Khowst, which is near the Pakistan boarder. While we were there I was able to visit a Women’s Affairs Center. The government, which is newly established here in Afghanistan, is trying hard to get its infrastructure up and running. This Women’s Center is one such project of this new government.
As I have mentioned before, I rarely ever see adult women here in Afghanistan, and when I do, they are wearing berkas (sp?), the gown that covers them from head to toe. My visit to the Women’s Center was the first time that I actually saw and “talked” with women here in Afghanistan, via an interpreter. The woman on the far left in the above picture runs this Women’s Center.
While I was there, we had a sort of “town hall meeting” with only women in attendance. At this meeting, they aired their concerns and needs. Mostly they just want the basics: clean water, jobs, generators, etc. One woman, who is a principal of a nearby girls’ school, wanted a bus so she could get her students to and from school safely. The woman who runs the Women’s Center needs fuel so she can drive her vehicle to visit women in the province who need assistance. They also asked for blankets and warm clothes, etc.
There is no postal system in Afghanistan. The only humanitarian aid they receive, as far as I can tell, is from the local FOB which is run by us. When I fly out to a FOB, I usually carry a couple of boxes with me, filled with care items sent by the likes of you :) Then, we ground convoy, in heavily armored vehicles, out to places such as this Women’s Center. We also visit schools, orphanages, hospitals, police stations, etc. We bring them humanitarian aid via our convoys. That is why they are always really happy to see us, and why they tell us all their needs.
We report back to FOB commanders, and they in turn talk with and work with the newly elected government officials. There are some success stories, but there is also much corruption. There are also the Taliban forces. They have been known to severely punish some villagers for working with, and receiving aid from us. It seems to me that it will be quite some time before things are operating smoothly here.
All this has really made me appreciate and wonder at how it all works so well in the United States. For example, just having a postal system that works and is not corrupt is something to really be thankful for.
Afghanistan is a very poor county; they don’t have oil like other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, one of their largest products here is their opium-poppy crop, which is everywhere, but, of course, which we are tying to eradicate.
This is a picture of a woman at the “town meeting.” She had such interesting features, I just had to take her picture. She was quite vocal, and quite a character. Judging by the way the other women deferred to her, I gather she is a pretty revered woman in this community. Elders are a VERY big deal in this country. It’s quite different than in the U.S., where older people are often marginalized. Here, when they speak, everyone listens :) As soldiers, we’ve learned that if you want to make progress with a local village, you must work with and through the elders to get anywhere.
This picture was taken at a girls’ school. I would guess there were about 30 girls there, all sitting outside on these plastic chairs, doing some sort of writing assignment. Most of the girls did not want me to take their picture, but this young woman looked right at me, and almost smiled.
At Khowst I ran each morning along the air field, which is a secured area. I’m always happy when I can run outside the FOB walls. Anyway, you never know what you are going to happen upon here in Afghanistan. About a half mile up the road, I came upon this old “airplane graveyard.” These are old Russian planes left over from the war back in the 1980s. You see remnants of the war with Russia all over this country. Unfortunately, most of the land mines are still here as well.
Well, that’s all for now. I’m leaving again soon for another FOB called
Ghazni. I think by the time I’m done with my tour, I will be one of the few people who has visited most every FOB in the country! :)
May your Advent be filled with peace and hope.
ps – I have just been informed that I have given out the wrong mailing address. The address I gave is working, I am receiving care packages, and hopefully they are ALL arriving OK. However, please use this address in the future when mailing me items. I’m sorry for the confusion, I even doubled checked the old address to make sure that it was correct before I gave it out, but I was just told now that it is wrong. Here’s my new, and hopefully last address:
321 CA BDE
APO AE 09354