Planting The Seeds Of Stability

January 25, 2009

When a National Guard unit deploys to a war torn country, they take with them, not only the skill set they were trained on in the military, but the often varied experiences and expertise from their civilian job as well. Some may be businessmen, students, doctors or nurses, lawyers or even farmers. The things that these Soldiers can bring to the table during a deployment, are often as varied as the personality of each Soldier. Members of agricultural development teams currently deployed to Afghanistan, are shining examples of what the National Guard stands for. Their emblem alone signifies this: A minuteman holding a musket in one hand and the other hand resting on a plow. At a recent media roundtable event, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Army National Guard Chief,Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, spoke about the capabilities that these Soldiers bring to the development of the countries that they are deployed in. Joining them for the event via video teleconference was Army Col. Stan Poe, who is currently in Afghanistan leading a team from Texas National Guard, and Sultan Huessen Abasyar, who is the director of Ghanizi provinces agriculture, irrigation and livestock office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team members conduct bulk density soil samples in Marawara District, Afghanistan. Photo By: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle

According to data that the men provided, about 85 percent of the population in Afghanistan is involved in agriculture. The deployed teams are working on what the country needs to better support their citizens who are engaged in agriculture, as a means of support.

“For the US Army to consider having teams like the agribusiness development teams … concerned only with agriculture and advancement of improving agriculture in Afghanistan - is in my opinion one of the best ways to not only help the people of Afghanistan improve their economy and living standards, but to help Afghanistan prosper as a nation for future generations,” Sultan Abasyar said through an interpreter.1

The team from Texas, is composed of 58 members. 10 of those members are experts in various farm related disciplines. Their job is to assist the Afghan farmers with various tasks. Those tasks might involve things such as seeds, fertilizers, irrigation projects, electricity and social analysis. The remaining members of the team are National Guard Infantrymen. However, every single member of the team has a farming background. While their main job is be a security force for the team, each of them are knowledgeable in farming and how to get crops into the ground and then harvest them. As is evidenced by the rebuilding projects in Iraq, our Troops aren’t in the country, just to fight, but also to help the country move past the war, rebuild their country and stabilize the country and it’s economy. Each National Guard Soldier in the team is able to bring with them, the expertise of their civilian jobs.

Each of the teams have ties with universities and organizations in the United States, in order to help them best serve the Afghan population that they are working with. For example, the Texas team is in constant contact with subject matter experts at Texas A & M University. The staff at Texas A & M is able to assist the teams with soil analysis and provide suggestions for what crops might do well in that particular soil and climate.

“Water is the limiting factor in Ghazni,” Vaughn said. ” A lack of water is not the problem in Afghanistan,” he continued. “The management of the water is the problem.”2

The teams have worked on several projects with the Afghan farmers. They have assisted by putting in dams on mountain streams. This helps to lengthen the growing season by a month. Other projects include water management techniques, to help prevent floods and control erosion of the soil, micro-generators for the farms and installing windmills and solar powered collectors, to enable the farmers to have the electricity they need to operate their farms more efficiently.

Another project the team is exploring is creating jobs in the region by helping to create industries that will utilize raw materials that come from the farming industry. Members are working with local government officials on putting in a feedlot for cattle. More things than meat can be taken from the cattle industry. Because of this fact, the teams are working to construct a building to house a place for butchers to slaughter the animals that come from the feedlot. They are also working on a tanning facility, that can tan the hides of the animals and make leather. They are also looking at creating cold storage facilities and possibly a wool washing factory. Each new facility that is opened, strengthens the farming industry as well as create jobs for the people of the region. With jobs available, it’s hoped that the citizens will be less likely to align themselves with the Taliban. This in turn makes their communities a much safer place for them to live and raise their families in.

They new projects are many and very exciting to the citizens of the region. These projects will make Afghanistan a much safer, more productive and a more stable place for it’s citizens. Due to the stability the country has experienced over many many years, the country basically lost an entire generation of farmers. Recognizing this, the teams are working with officials from Afghanistan, as well as officials from Texas A & M, to create schools to train teachers and provide materials, that can be used to educate current and future generations of farmers in Afghanistan.

By using the expertise of Soldiers such as the team from Texas and another from Missouri, the Army is tapping into a very important resource. By using Soldiers from the states where agriculture is one of the primary industries, the Army is able to provide a very valuable and much needed service to the people of Afghanistan.

“This is what we need for long-term solutions in Afghanistan,” Vaughn said. “This is a poor country and if we can improve the way they farm, we are making a huge contribution to stability in the nation.”3

This is a wonderful service that our Troops are providing to the citizens of Afghanistan. I think it’s great that the Army is tapping into the expertise of their National Guard Soldiers and putting that expertise to work in a way that will not only strengthen the economy and stability of Afghanistan, but forge a strong bond with the people, by helping to improve their living conditions and creating jobs.

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Creating Hope For The Future

January 18, 2009

Children in the United States have always had the opportunity to attend school and obtain an education, in order to prepare themselves to enter the job market and make a living for themselves and their families. Many go on after completing High School, to college to learn a trade in order to better compete in the job market. In war torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and others, the children often don’t have the opportunity to attend school, for many reasons. Sometimes, because their families need them to earn wages, in order to help provide sustenance and shelter for their family members. Other reason might be because of the dangers involved with going to school, or the fact that the building their school was held in, was damaged during fighting. Our children are very lucky that education is a top priority in our country and every child is required to attend school, at least until they reach the age of 16, at which time they have the choice to drop out, get their GED or complete their High School education. Often in other countries, while the children yearn to attend school, many reasons prevent them from doing so. Knowing the importance of education for the future of these countries, one thing provincial reconstruction teams have concentrated on, is ensuring that the children in these countries have the opportunity to obtain an education.

Recently, in one Afghan province, commitment to education was at the forefront, during a ground-breaking ceremony for the Maliki Surial girls’ school in the province’s Behsood district Jan. 11. When completed, the school will have 10 classrooms which will allow for 1,400 girls to attend school within a year.

“Currently, the girls attend an open-air school where they sit outdoors and learn,” Army Capt. Elisabeth Leon, Nangarhar PRT lead engineer, said. “When the weather turns bad, they simply can’t go to school.”1

During the groundbreaking ceremony, officials urged those in the audience to do everything possible to make sure that the school reaches it’s potential. By ensuring that the school succeeds, they are also ensuring that the girls who attend the school, have the opportunity to succeed, far beyond their wildest dreams. They will be giving each of the young girls hope for their futures.

“The key to success in Afghanistan is education of all children,” LTC Steven Cabosky, Nangarhar PRT commandersaid. “While this school project will help, the hard work still exists. It’s up to all of you to make sure your children are able to go to school and receive an education. That is what will build a strong Afghanistan.”2

Before the Taliban government was defeated in 2001, fewer than a million children – almost none of them girls — attended school in Afghanistan. Since then, the number has grown to more than 6 million children, with 35 percent of them girls, according to NATO International Security Assistance Force statistics.3

With each new school that is built, or one that is refurbished, more chance for success and change is offered to the future of these countries. These children are the future leaders of their country. With the chance to obtain an education, they are being enabled to succeed and make positive changes in their country. This provides hope for their future and the future of their country.

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Radio Station Brings News To Villages

October 1, 2008

Imagine living in a remote village in Afghanistan, where obtaining news from the outside world was almost impossible. In many of the villages, they are so remote, that conditions are primitive at best. People are often isolated and cut-off from the rest of the world.
For we Americans, who are used to having the luxury of our radios, televisions, newpapers and telephones just a fingertip away, it’s hard to imagine what life must be like for the people living in those villages. I know for myself, I would feel very isolated and out of touch with the world.

Sarwar and Islamuddin, the Bermel Radio station jockeys, located on Forward Operating Base Boris, Paktika province, broadcast religious services, play music, educational programs and spread news 13 hours a day to the local area.


In Afghanistan, citizens are now able to have more of an idea what’s occurring in the world, with the opening of a new radio station, “The People’s Radio, located at 92 FM on their radio dial. The creation of the radio station was done with the idea of providing news, advice and education to the villagers. Currently the station, located at Forward Operating Base Boris operates 13 hours per day, throughout the district of Bermel, which is located in eastern Paktika province.

Currently the station is providing over 11 different types of programs. They cover almost every aspect of life for the people in the local villages. The programs range from work and agriculture to health and education. The station also features programs that are specific to women, as well as religious service programs.2

Operating the station are Sarwar, who is a former agricultural professor at Khowst University and Islamuddin, who is an advisor that has over 10 years of agricultural experience. The operate the station as well as host most of the broadcasts.

“We try to do as much as we can for the people here,” Sawar said. “We even meet with them and teach them as much as we can about agriculture. It’s a big part of life for them and we want to make it better for them.”3

So far, the local villagers have responded favorably to the new radio station and the information that it provides to them. The radio station has been in operation for 5 months and thus far have received over 7,000 letters from citizens. Most of the feedback has been positive. Letters run the gamut from offering praise, to making suggestions, asking questions or requesting other programming. The response from the citizens has been so good, that plans are in the works to expand the station. Currently it is operating on a 50 watt system, which has a listening range of 15000-17000sq km. Plans are to upgrade that to a 500 watt system, which will increase the listening range over 10 times to what it is currently, or closer to 170,000 sq. km.

Funding and support for the radio station are provided by Internatinal Security Assistance Forces, which also assists the operations of 9 other radio stations in the Paktika province. It’s great to see these positive steps being taken in Afghanistan. Just knowing what has been accomplished in Iraq and the improvements that have been made, gives me hope that we’ll begin seeing many similar changes in Afghanistan as well, including more radio and television stations, to ensure that those in isolated regions of the country can have contact with the rest of the world, if that is their choice.

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Troops Aid Afghan Child Who Was Shot During Tribal Conflict

March 15, 2008

On the eve of the weekend that sparks of numerous anti-war demonstrations across the country, I think it’s only fitting to provide a clearer picture of the types of things that our Troops are doing. While the anti-war protestors prefer to tell outright lies about the actions of our Troops, I prefer to let people know the types of things that our Troops are accomplishing. This isn’t an isolated case. One only has to read the numerous milblogs that are out there, to know that the media and the anti-war folks are only emphasizing the isolated bad incidents and totally ignoring the multitude of positive things our Troops are doing.

One of the things our Troops strive to do, is to help the local people in the countries they’re serving in. Recently in Afghanistan, Troops helped to ensure that an Afghan girl who was caught in the cross-fire during a tribal shoot-out on February 26th, would survive. The shoot-out killed several members of her family, but the little girl is doing well thanks to the efforts of US Troops.

“I was sleeping and one of the Soldiers came to my door and told me there were going to be some patients coming,” recalled Army SSG Landon B. Powell, medical NCO, with HHT, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

“There was a tribal conflict that resulted in a certain part of the tribe attacking another family in the tribe,” said Army Captain James Chapman, Troop B commander. “It resulted in the death of four of the family members and the wounding of the little girl.”

After being shot, the little girl and her younger brothers walked three kilometers to get to the district center. It’s unknown how long she was there, prior to being brought to the hospital. When the little girl arrived, a rapid trauma assessment was done and a bullet wound was discovered.

“I didn’t know before she got here that she had already been seen by a civilian doctor,” said Powell. “The civilian doctor, in order to take care of the wound, sewed the bullet inside.”

After assessing the little girls’ injuries, Powell made the decision to call for a medical evacuation to transport the girl to a facility that was better equipped. He felt that the danger in removing the bullet at their location was just too great. The little girl was airlifted to FOB Salerno.

“In Salerno, they have x-ray and MRI capabilities, so where I was unable to see where the bullet was, they could.” Powell said. “We were mainly in charge of keeping her vitals stable, because in that type of situation you can have internal bleeding and the vitals can drop.”

While awaiting the arrival of the helicopter, Soldiers kept the little girl calm by talking to her. Experiences such as this, especially involving children are very personal for the Troops, many whom have children of their own and who automatically feel the need to protect the child and do everything in their power to help them. Many of our Troops become very attached to the children that they come into contact in Afghanistan and Iraq, so it’s extremely difficult to see the children injured. It’s also very rewarding, when they’re able to help wounded children survive and recover from their injuries.

“The way things happen here, I just thought, ‘That could have been my daughter,’” said Powell. “I haven’t seen my daughter in so long, so it’s easy to get a little emotionally attached.”

Afghan police are working to ensure that the people responsible for the murder of the little girl’s family members and for her injury are brought to justice. So far, they have arrested 6 people in connection with the incident and local government officials are working to make appropriate decisions regarding the welfare of the little girl and her brothers. Powell has visited the district center on several occasions to check on the girl and make sure that she’s recovering okay.

“This is the kind of stuff that keeps me going - being able to make a difference,” Powell said. “I enjoy helping people.”


Filmmaker Depicts The Good Works Of Troops

January 8, 2008

As a follow-up to the story I did on November 28th, I’d like to provide more details about the movie “God and Country” by Mactavish Films. The more I hear about this film, the more I know it’s one that I want to see.

The media and the film industry has overloaded us with reports and movies coming out of Hollywood, suc as “Redacted,” “The Valley of Elah” and “Stop Loss” that tend to portray American Troops as blood-thirsty criminals. These movies almost come across as saying that the men and women serving in our country’s Armed Forces, don’t have any other choice in life, but to join the military. Sometimes these movies go so far as to make our Troops appear somewhat dimwitted and bumbling. Those of us who work closely with the Troops, whether it be in our jobs or through Troop Support organizations, know that these portrayals are about as far from the truth as you can get. One Charlottesville-based filmmaker, feels the same way.

Filmmaker Scott Mactavish portrays the courage and character that can be found among American military personnel in his new documentary, “God and Country.” Mactavish says the documentary is in response to what he calls Hollywood portrayals of American Troops as rapacios, homicidal sociopaths.

“God and Country,” which is now ready for distribution, corrects the general consensus of the military as guys who have no other recourse in life,” according to Mactavish. “It’s part of Hollywood’s thought pttern to put out that message and maybe that’s because they haven’t had much contact with the military and the people in it,” said Mactavish, himself a Gulf War veteran. “I wanted to disprove that and contradict what Hollywood filmmakers like Brian De Palma seem to believe, that American soldiers are rapists and murderers.”

Mactavish isn’t new to film production. His company, Mactavish Films has prodced quite a few videos and films, including “Summer Running: The Race to Cure Breast Cancer. Mactavish also has experience working on commercial movie crews, including “The Crow” prior to creating his own production company.

“God and Country” doesn’t focus solely on Iraq or Afghanistan, but instead includes segments from different military humanitarian efforts, including those in Djbouti, Belize and Guatemala, as well as segments on the Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort. Another feature in the film is a segment about the late Cpl. Bradley T. Arms who was killed on November 19, 2004 during combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq. Cpl. Arms grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Charlottesville’s Covenant School. He later attended the University of Georgia and was a member of the Marine Corps Reserve. He was called to active duty and died leading a combat team on a mission to help other Marines who were in a gun battle with insurgents.

“He didn’t have to enlist. He didn’t have to go, but he did it anyway, and he knew it meant going to war,” Mactavish said. “When you see the things he did in school and at his fraternity at the University of Georgia and his service to his country, you see the kind of character you find throughout the military.”

Brad’s father, Bob Arms agress with Mactavish. According to Arms, Mactavish and his crew came to his house and made the family feel at ease as they set up their cameras and asked them questions about Brad. Mr. Arms said that the hardest part for him and his family, was recounting the day that they saw three Marines walk up to their door in dress blues to inform them of Brad’s death.

“It’s sad tat there isn’t more recognition of the good the military has done,” he said. “Brad was not a high-profile look-at-me kind of personality. He was a quiet guy who walked the walk. He believed in what he was doing.”

According to Mactavish, his hopes are that his film will provide some type of balance to the images that are currently being put out by Hollywood and the media in regards to our Troops.
I totally agree with that and hope that by viewing his film that American citizens will have a more realistic view of our Troops.

“I’m not against protesting or marching, I would never discourage any fom being against war or speaking out, but in making your point, don’t paint 95 percent of the people doing their jobs with commitment and courage, as criminals,” Mactavish said. “There are people who believe America is still the good guy. We may not always get it right, but we’re also the first country in history t use its military to help others as much as we do.”

“God and Country” is definitely on my “must see” list and a movie that I will be ordering. It’s high time that someone shows what our Troops are actually accomplishing everyday, instead of the twisted Hollywood and media versions. Thank You Mr. Mactavish for making sure people are able to have a real and honest portrayal of our Troops.

Mactavish Films

Charlottesville Daily Progress

‘Operation Bernice’ Delivers Joy To Afghan Children

December 21, 2007

As we move closer and closer to Christmas, many of us who have children, are busy preparing for the holiday; buying and wrapping gifts and ensuring that we have our baking and decorating done, in order to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones, as we’re accustomed to. For children in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, they often don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the type of gifts that we lavish upon our children. This year though, in Angurdarrah and Gadaykhel many children will be able to experience Christmas, with the joy we see on the faces of our own children.

Dubbed ‘Operation Bernice’ after a childhood toy of Army Major Jeremy McGuire, the team leader of the Kohe Safi Police Mentor Team, the mission to ensure that Afghan children received a gift at Christmas turned out to be very successful. Major McGuire remembered a stuffed animal that he received as a child from his aunt, Marcie Grace Kelley and decided to name the mission to the two remote Afghan villages, Operation Bernice, after that childhood toy. The mission was planned when his Aunt Marcy donated 200 stuffed animals to be handed out to the Afghan children.

“Operation Bernice, to me, shows how the coalition forces, the Afghan National Police, government leaders of Kohe Safi and people in the United States can work together …. to help the people of Afghanistan, and demonstrate how the government is available to answer the people’s grievances,” McGuire said.

Throughout the remainder of December, McGuire and his team will continue to make visits, multiple times with the people of Kohe Safi. Then after New Year’s Day, the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team members plan to conduct a four day medical mission to northern Kohe Safe villages that they visited during ‘Operation Bernice’ and were able to identify medical needs. According to McGuire, the delivery of the toys was a success and that the presence of girls was a great sign.

“Typically, in this area we have had a low female turnout for medical engagements. ‘Operation Bernice’ gave us an insight that they may be very receptive to the medical engagement the Afghan government and doctors will be executing in January.”

It’s great that forces were able to not only bring some joy into the lives of these Afghan children, but were able to identify medical needs of the communities as well. These types of missions are much more commonplace than many people know, as these are generally the types of stories that the media tends to ignore. News like this, makes me even more proud of the job that the men and women serving in our country’s Armed Forces, are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Shelter For Women Opened in Afghanistan

December 19, 2007

The Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team unveiled a new women’s shelter during a ribbon cutting ceremony on December 13th. The shelter is the very first of it’s kind for Afghanistan’s Kapisa province. Present for the ceremony were Kapisa Governor Khuweja Abubaker and Safura Kohistani, who is the province’s director of women’s affairs.

“A woman who is a victim of domestic violence cannot go to the police or another man for help, or she will lose honor with her family,” said Captain Jordan Berry, the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s (PRT) civil affairs team leader for the province. “Any woman who is a victim of domestic violence or who is temporairly displaced from her home or family is elgible to use the shelter,” Berry said.

In the United States, women’s shelters are quite commonplace, but that is not so in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where the culture is quite different. Here in the US, shelters provide a safe haven for women who are victims of domestic abuse. Considering that I work daily with domestic violence and sexual assault victims, the shelter opening sparked great interest from me. The opening of this shelter, is a great stride forward for Afghanistan. The shelter is designed to be able to provide everything that any woman who visits or stays there might need.

“The shelter is a facility consisting of eight rooms, one kitchen, one office with a desk and chairs, 10 steel frame bunk beds with mattresses, an interior European-style restroom, an exterior one-stall restroom, a well, a perimeter security wall, a guard house and a generator house,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Liston, the Bagram PRT’s structural superintendent.

The project to build the shelter took 9 months for the contractors, who were local Afghanis to complete. The Bagram PRT provided more than $86,000 towards the project. As well as holding the ribbon cutting ceremony, attendees were able to view an exihibit of items handcrafted by several Afghan women.

According to Air Force Captain Erick Saks, the PRT’s executive officer, helped to put money into the local community. Saks said that the exihibit was another way that showed the steps forward that were being made in Afghanistan and the changing thoughts about the role of women in the country.

“Many members of our team bought items at the exhibition as gifts, which not only helped with their Christmas shopping, but it also put money into the local community,” said Captain Saks. “The money collected at the exhibition provided income for the local women, he said. “There are few business oppportunities for women in Afghanistan, so we were glad to help them out.”


God And Country: The Untold Stories Of The American Military

November 28, 2007

Lately, the movie industry has bombarded us with their anti-war, anti-Troops sentiments in recent movies that have been released. Apparently most of the country, is not real impressed with their product, as they’ve not done well in the box office. I’ve not watched any of them and doubt that I will. Many of these movies, depict our Troops as blood thirsty thugs and murders and even go so far, as to imply that their belief is that those who refuse to serve are heroes in their eyes. We know better and thankfully, a director/producer feels the same way that we do.

I was recently contacted about a new movie that is in the works about our Troops and the fantastic humanitarian work that they do in other countries. Things we don’t hear about in the media. Things like handing out toys, clothing and candy to the children, providing medical care to the citizens of the country, rebuilding vital resources for cities and towns, and the list could go on and on. These types of things, that are accomplished on a daily basis by our Troops are ignored by the media, but one film producer/director hopes to change that. He hopes to highlight the long-standing tradition of humanitarian service, that our military has, in the soon to be released movie God And Country. The types of things highlighted in this movie, are the things that we’ve been telling our readers about, the accomplishments of our Troops, that help to enable the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, to stand on their own and take charge of their country. The acts of kindness, go a long way in establishing a trusting relationship with the citizens and it’s a task that our Troops gladly tackle.

American troops have a long and noble tradition of humanitarian service. From handing out candy bars and care packages to street children, to offering medical and dental care to the poor, to building churches and orphanages in third world countries… these American men and women commit thousands of hours to the service of others around the world, without expectation of gratitude or praise. GOD AND COUNTRY examines these heroes and their missions, and reveals a side of the military rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The film also profiles the extraordinary character of Bradley T. “Brad” Arms, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother at the University of Georgia who enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and ultimately gave his life so that others may live free of tyranny. Brad was a Marine, but also a man of strong faith who dedicated his life to the service of his fellow man.

Producer/Director Scott Mactavish is a former Hollywood insider and US Navy veteran, who left LA to make films that counterpunch the typical liberal media agenda.

GOD AND COUNTRY is a direct rebuttal to the films put out by Brian DePalma, Mark Cuban and the other Hollywood ‘elite’. The film is due to be released on December 15th. You can pre-purchase a copy of the movie, by going to the God And Country website. From what I’ve read, this movie will show our Troops in action, as they go about their day, helping the Iraqi and Afghani people, as well as people of other countries around the world. This is a movie that will definitely be on my “must see” list and I hope it will be on yours as well.

God And Country

Operation Dreamseed: Going ‘Above And Beyond’ For The Kids of Afghanistan

November 16, 2007

We’ve often said that one of the most important things our Troops do, when they’re deployed to war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, is the work they do to help the local citizens. Not only does this help the people of those areas to live a better life, but it also goes a long ways in developing relationships with these people, which in turn makes it easier for our Troops to conduct their missions. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our Troops are doing everything possible to improve living conditions for the citizens of these countries. For many, with children of their own at home, seeing the children living in these conditions really tears at their hearts and they strive to do whatever necessary to help these children. Building that trust and rapport with the local citizenry, showing them that the American Troops can be trusted to help them, also helps with the mission, when it comes time to gain information about the enemy. This in turn, could save the lives of both local citizens and the Troops.

In 2004, when Major Todd Schmidt heard that he would be deploying to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry Division, he began making plans for how he could help the impoverished people who were living in Afghanistan. The desire to help Afghanistan’s people eventually turned into the formation of a nonprofit organization called Operation Dreamseed. The group to date has enabled Troops to distribute tons of school supplies to the children of Afghanistan.

On Monday, Major Schmidt was recognized by the USO and Microsoft Corporation, with the Above and Beyond award, in the Everyday Difference Category. These awards were created to recognize the contributions of American citizens who brighten the lives of US Troops around the world.

Currently Major Schmidt is stationed at the Pentagon and still finds about 20 hours a week to work with the nonprofit organization that he created, to ensure that donated backpacks are filled with pens, paper, crayons, toys and candy and then sent to Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, who then distribute the backpacks to the local school children in their area of operations.

“When we would drive into these villages, you’d see these kids running around bare-faced, in torn clothes, dirt smeared on their faces, hair all unkempt. And you’re like, man, these guys are in a bad condition here,” Major Schmidt said. “All that goes away when you give them school supplies; they just get this smile that beams from ear-to-ear. It’s a transformation that you’d really like to see take place, because they walk away, and they’re so proud to go home with this backpack that they’re going to be able to take to school with them every day now.”

Major Schmidt is humble about what he’s done, saying that a lot of the credit goes to members of the American public who sent his unit hundreds of care packages each week. He said that they always wrote thank-you notes and told the folks that they appreciated their generosity very much, but that they had everything they needed. They would then ask their supporters to send school supplies for the children. According to Major Schmidt, many of the Afghan children, attend schools in tents. The response to their request was overwhelming, and quickly evolved into the nonprofit, Operation Dreamseed. Operation Dreamseed, has grown successful beyond Major Schmidt’s dreams, even being able to help build a school in Kandahar City by raising $80,000.

When it became time for their unit to redeploy home, the unit which replaced them, was only too happy to contine the project that they had started. As units have rotated in and out of the area of operation, other units and members of other military branches have become involved.

“They knew that it would help them to build good will and relations with the villages they would be patrolling in every day,” Maj. Schmidt said. “When the Soldiers are over there, passing out school supplies, interacting with the community, there’s a trust that begins to build there, a bond. You visit these villages over and over again and you can’t just go there and ask for information or expect them to provide you with things that you need. You have to give to them as well.”

“You see a lot of these Soldier-initiated activities, whether it’s to collect winter clothes, to collect shoes,” he said. “There are some amazing things Soldiers are doing over there, and it’s having a very real impact at the tactical level on how these units are able to build relationships with the community.”

When he heard about the Above and Beyond awards, Maj. Schmidt had contacted the volunteers with Operation Dreamseed and encouraged them to nominate someone they thought made a difference for Soldiers. Never in his wildest dreams, did he think that they’d nominate him. Once he found out he’d been nominated, he didn’t think he’d win, as the voting was done by the public, by an online vote.

“It’s pretty humbling because if you look at the other people who won, they’ve achieved amazing things,” he said. “There’s a sister and brother who have literally raised over a million dollars to help Soldiers pay for their phone bills and issue calling cards to Soldiers. That’s a phenomenal effort. There’s a Vietnam helicopter pilot who’s logged hundreds and hundreds of hours flying Family members to see their injured loved ones. You think abou being thrown in with people who make this sort of sacrifice and it’s really humbling.”

What Major Schmidt has been able to achieve, with the help of the American public is fantastic. Not only has he brought joy and hope to the children of Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, but his work, is the cornerstone that helps the Troops on the ground in these countries, to build a trusting relationship with these children and their family members. One look at these photos of the children is enough to convince me that the project Major Schmidt started is indeed making a difference. Please take some time to visit the Operation Dreamseed website and read about the work they’re doing to help the children.

WUSA Television

Operation Dreamseed

Teaming Up To Help The Poor In Jalalabad

November 3, 2007

Here at ASM, as well as on other milblogs, we are constantly talking about the things that our Troops are accomplishing in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis. Things that most people in America don’t know about, because these aren’t the kinds of things that tend to make the evening news. Even though the media doesn’t deem these stories newsworthy, we feel strongly, that these are the stories that the American people need to hear about. These are the everyday things that are happening all across both countries on a daily basis. These things, show the heart and soul of our Troops, their caring and giving nature. These stories show the willingness our Troops have to help out those who are more disadvantaged them themselves. This is one of the pictures of the men and women serving our country.

US Doctors and their Afghan counterparts have formed a new partnership, to help treat the poorest of the poor in the Jalalabad region. When Army Dr. (Maj) Lee Trombetta, a 555th Forward Surgical Team general surgeon met Dr. Akmal Pardis, director of the Jalalabad public health hospital earlier this year, they put their heads together and came up with a partnership program that will team local Afghan doctors with doctors from the 555th FST.

“To me the most important thing, the purpose of the program is to treat the poorest of the poor,” said Trombetta.

This agreement will foster a working partnership between the local Afghan doctors and the 555th FST. The program is also an academic environment, which will provide training and education for all Afghan and Army medics. Each Sunday, the 555th receives a list of consultations from the Afghan surgeons. Everything is funneled through the directors of the hospital. Then, each week, a different Afghan surgeon and anesthesia provider from the Jalalabad hospital go to the FOB and the patients are screened on Monday mornings. If a good candidate for surgery presents themselves, then the doctors perform surgery on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“In order for us to go home, we need competent people who can take over for us,” said Army Dr. (Maj) J. Stephen Birchfield, a surgeon with 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. “So, in essence, we are providing medical training for our Afghan partners. So they know what we know, and hopefully they can take on our mission.”

Communication between the US doctors and the Afghan doctors at Jalalabad hospital is easy. They’re on a first name basis now which makes the communication and helping relationship work well. Recently the hospital had a woman come in who had been bitten by a snake. They had no antivenim at the hospital, so they contacted Trombetta, who sent it right over to them.

Dr. Obaid Dost, who is an Aghan plastic surgeon, says he likes what he’s seen of the partnership and really has a good feeling about it. Recently a little girl with an infected bone fracture was being operated on. While she was being treated, a young Afghan man who had a deformed stemming from a childhood burn waited patiently. There is however, a war still taking place. When an Afghanistan border patrol guard was flown in with a seriously wounded leg from a gunshot, the tempo was interrupted. It happened once again, when an American Soldier was brought in with a possible shoulder fracture. But things quickly return to the normal pace, once the war injuries are treated.

“We are attempting to capture the hearts and minds of the local people, to show them that the Americans here want to help them,” said Army Lt. Col. Patricia Fortner, 555th FST commander. “Maybe they will think a little bit better of the American and coalition troops.”


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