Along with the pictures here, I placed some pictures from today’s mission on the “Afghanistan Pics” page. (Check ‘em out.)
Our team is made up of lots of different occupations. Engineers, Civil Affairs people, Security Forces, Women’s Affairs reps, etc.
Whenever we go out on a mission (outside the wire,) the only people that actually go are the people who have a role to play in that day’s particular mission. If the mission is to inspect a construction site, our engineers will go and our Women’s Affairs reps (who have nothing to do with construction,) will remain safely at Bagram. Or, if our mission is to assist in a women’s capacity training seminar, our civil engineers will stay at Bagram while our Women’s Affairs reps brave the communities outside the wire.
And then, there’s me.
As the Information Operations officer, AND the team’s Public Affairs Officer, my office usually goes outside the wire on EVERY mission, no matter what the topic. Why? The belief is that no matter WHAT we’re doing, it’s an opportunity for me to talk to people and inform them (influence,) or at a minimum, document our activities for media purposes. This keeps me going outside the wire a lot more than other members of my team, but usually, my role is secondary to the primary mission. (For example, if we go to a construction site, I’m talking to people about how they can help the construction effort. Or, if we’re going to a Women’s event, I’m pushing women’s rights.)
But, today was different. Today our mission was to go and spread information to a specific village. So, since information was the primary effort (instead of construction or women’s affairs,) today was one of the few times when I served as the “Mission Commander,” leading the team on a mission outside the wire.
Shokhi village is a small community in Mahmood Raqi district. If you remember, our team was hit by its first IED strike near this area. Seeing as how we’re not their favorite people there, we thought that by developing a relationship with the village elders, it would open the door to communication (which could hopefully result in them deciding not to blow us up in the future.)
We made an introductory visit there a few days ago … Met some kids in a school, and spoke with the teachers and village elders. Of course, every meeting we ever have with an Afghan includes the usual request for assistance. So, we told him during our next trip, we would bring some things for some of their needy families. Today was that day.
Prior to departing, I asked the team to help me create pre-packed bags of goodies. There was some food, some clothes, and some school supplies in the bags we put together. (Of course, there was some strategically placed “information” included with their packages.)
We told the village elders that we could only bring a small amount of goodies. (Too much baggage slows us down and makes us more of a security risk, so we only carry small amounts at a time.) To alleviate disappointment, we asked the village elders to pick the people to receive the goods, and have that specific number of people available to receive them when we arrived. Even though we TOLD them we only had a few items, the ENTIRE village showed up … WAY more than we had goodies for.
And ALL of them were poor, hungry and wanted something. We asked the Afghan police to control the crowds while village elders distributed the goods to the identified people, but the police were powerless against a mob of people who SAW goodies being given out, but weren’t going to get any.
Once it looked like the supply was running low, people’s emotions began running high. The crowd became hostile, and the “Gimme” culture took over. People began rushing our team, upset that we didn’t bring enough for everyone.
Some people tried to take the goodies from others who had them. We looked to the Afghan police for help, but they, too (as members of the same impoverished Afghan community,) seemed to be more concerned about getting some of the freebies than performing their job of crowd control.
One old woman (who wasn’t an intended recipient,) managed to get close to a bag of goodies, and simply SAT DOWN AND SQUATTED ON IT.
I thought about her desperation … In the face of US Soldiers and Airmen, and Afghan Police (MANY men … ALL with GUNS,) this old woman braved breaking through the crowd AND our team so she could get close enough to TAKE what she needed when we didn’t give it to her.
She was smart enough to know that because of her age and her weight, no one would move her.
She was right.
As the commander of the mission, I was upset with her, because she was stealing goodies from someone else who would eventually not get any today (and, she was messing up my plan.)
But, simply as a human, I felt bad inside that she felt she had to do that. But I understand … if she didn’t do anything, we would have simply drove away, and she would have received nothing. In fact, we did drive away, and LOTS of people went away angry. (She wasn’t one of them.)
In general, many people were very upset with us that we didn’t GIVE EVERYBODY something. They expected it. They demanded it. And they were upset when they didn’t get it.
Although we were ultimately successful in fulfilling our mission of delivering the goodies, I’m not sure we actually HELPED anybody today.