Monday, February 2, 2009

Afghan National Army, Marines provide humanitarian assistance to remote Afghan village

Date written: Feb 1, 2009
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones

QAMBARAN, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers provided humanitarian assistance to locals of the southern Afghan village of Qambaran, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2009, with the assistance of alliance forces.

The ANA took the lead during the operation, while being escorted by U.S. Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, and a team of Italian soldiers of the 186th Parachutist Regiment, 207th Corps. The mission was to build relationships with the villagers while driving a wedge between the locals and insurgents in a known hostile environment.

“We were out there to let them know that they do have a government, and ANA and Afghan National Police are standing up in their area,” said Sgt. Jesus O. Luna, a Marine with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, SPMAGTF-A.

The Afghan and Italian soldiers and U.S. Marines traveled many hours over desolate and difficult terrain to arrive at the village. In such a remote location, the locals there had never witnessed the presence of the ANA before.

“They’re so far removed from other areas that only a few patrols have been up there since the 1980s when the Russians were here,” said 1st Lt. Adam J. Felde, the Weapons Platoon commander of Company K. “We were probably the second, maybe the third American force to have ever been up to Qambaran. The first time we went up there about a month ago, they wouldn’t even look at us. They were more receptive this time.”

“It was the first time the locals and even the older men there have ever reported seeing ANA up there,” said Felde. “A lot of times, the locals don’t even know the ANA are even Muslim. They just think of them as foreigners. They didn’t pay much attention to (U.S. Marines) at all. They were very focused on the ANA.”

The ANA soldiers greeted the villagers and handed out blankets and sweaters provided to them through the donations of the nonprofit organization Spirit of America.

Luna commented on how helpful the donations from Spirit of America were during his previous tour in Iraq and believes they will be just as effective in Afghanistan to help International Security Assistance Forces conduct counterinsurgency operations.

“Anything we get from Spirit of America we give to the ANA to pass out,” said Luna. “It helps the Afghan people build trust and confidence in their government. Everything helps immensely.”

“The (ANA) love it,” said Luna. “They say they just want to keep going out with us because they get to pass out stuff, and they get to put little smiles on faces. They like it just as much as we do.”

U.S. Navy physicians and a doctor from the Italian armed forces also joined in, providing medical attention to those who stepped forward.

One local man, approximately 70-years-old, commented by saying, “You must be here to help us because you’re not hurting us. You are helping us,” as translated by an interpreter.

The medical personnel arrived with a variety of over-the-counter medications, prescription meds and other much-needed items, such as bandages, dressings and antibiotic ointments.

The physicians assisted approximately 25-50 Afghans from ages 3 to 80 years old with a variety of symptoms from lower back pain, arthritis and headaches to cold symptoms and children with regular viral colds and what one physician referred to as “a few interesting cases.”

“I expected to be taken aback a little bit by the situation,” said Lt. j.g. Kevin A. Goodell, a physician assistant with the Shock Trauma Plt. of Combat Logistics Battalion 3, the logistics combat element of SPMAGTF-A. “When you see people living in those standards with very little, you can’t help but to compare it with your own life. (It) might not be fair to do, but seeing (the conditions), you can’t help but to be touched by it.”

The physicians treated one child with a chronic infection on his foot, which they were able to treat with antibiotics. Another child was treated for a parasitic infection.

Goodell described the treatment he helped provide as an overall rewarding experience.

“They seemed to be very grateful and satisfied with our assistance,” said Goodell. “I don’t want to be naïve to say they’re cured because they have medicine now, but it was a rewarding experience seeing them getting blankets, sweaters and things that they didn’t have. I would say they expressed in a language that we can all understand, which were just gestures, that they were definitely grateful.”

The mission ended as the ANA handed out the remainder of the humanitarian assistance supplies and everyone who had desired to be seen by the doctors had explained their ailments in return for a diagnosis and medication.

“Our whole mission was accomplished by introducing the ANA, providing security for them, and delivering needed items to the area,” said Felde.
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