By Army Spc. Paul David Ondik
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 21, 2008 - Every day, provincial reconstruction teams roll out of bases in Afghanistan with mixed bags of services and skill sets, bound by the necessity of their mission. "Many would think it would be difficult to coordinate, but since we have unity of effort and a common interest in the welfare of the Afghan people, it isn't," said Army Capt. John Madia, Task Force Currahee fire support officer.
Madia is busy with a wide array of duties here. However, by his lighthearted demeanor, it would be hard to guess he's working far from his natural element. More often than not, this is the case for troops working in PRTs.
A West Point graduate in the Army's artillery branch, Madia has deployed before. In Iraq, he was an artillery platoon leader, but his platoon fired very little artillery. Instead, they patrolled the streets daily, initiating one-on-one contact with citizens who came to know them the way people in a U.S. neighborhood get to know a city cop patrolling a beat.
Madia said he became mildly famous for the effect he had on the local kids, who came to know him and his unit so well they would nearly jump in front of their Humvees as they rolled down eastern Baghdad alleyways. Now, in the Ghazni and Wardak provinces of Afghanistan, he has the potential to have a long-lasting effect on another population.
To generate the effect he desires, Madia relies on soldiers like Sgt. Al Walkowiak, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, to interact with the Afghan people on the streets.
Walkowiak, a West Pittstown, Pa., native, said he takes great pride in his work. His military occupational specialty says he's a tanker, but Walkowiak hasn't had the chance to operate many tanks here. Instead, he has worked with military police in Iraq, and now with a PRT in Afghanistan. He's not disappointed, he said.
"It's good to see the changes that take place with the PRT," Walkowiak said as he handed out lollipops to the children who come running whenever the team's trucks come within sight. "It's not bad here. Pretty friendly. Most of the places we've been to, it's been pretty friendly."
Walkowiak said he has a lot of respect for the Afghan people. He related a story about visiting an area where the people live in abject poverty, even by Afghan standards, which is beyond the scope of the imagination of most residents of developed nations.
He said he was amazed by the way the local people shared food and tea so liberally, taking from what little they had to make a man far from his country feel a little more at home.
"They're very generous people," Walkowiak said with a mixture of admiration and amazement.
The amount of construction going on in Ghazni province is phenomenal, considering that under Taliban rule the area was considered one of the most backwater areas of the country. The PRT is responsible for helping to guide much of this construction. From roads to bridges, and schoolhouses to clinics, the Ghazni PRT works in concert with the Afghan government in an effort to aid in the area's success.
Army Col. Pete Johnson, Task Force Currahee commander, applauded the efforts of the Ghazni PRT and its work with the 82nd Airborne Division's Task Force Fury, his unit's predecessors in the region.
"No matter the challenge, the forces working toward the success of the burgeoning democracy never flinched," Johnson said.
Outside of the half-built district center in Kwaji Omarie, the PRT members realized they still have a long way to go. There is no telling when the center will be officially finished to the standards that the engineers know are necessary. Local contractors sweat in the sun to build bridges to connect a maze of dirt streets that are difficult to navigate.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's the one that can be found in front of soldiers like Walkowiak, or in the eyes of the Afghan children who marvel and plead not for the weapon in his hand, but the pens in his pocket.
(Army Spc. Paul David Ondik serves in the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)