By Army Pvt. Tamara Gabbard
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 30, 2008 - Servicemembers here show they care for the future of a free and democratic Afghanistan and a peaceful, nurturing environment for Afghan children by distributing donated items to local youth. Operation Care, a Bagram-based humanitarian effort, was created in May 2006 and strives to "win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, one child at a time," officials said.
Three times a week, volunteers sort and distribute numerous items donated from all over the United States and parts of Europe to Afghan youth.
"The volunteers give a lot of their free time," said Navy Lt. Sara A. O'Neil, a judge advocate general officer and Operation Care's president. "Giving their time to this organization is a very selfless thing."
Common donations include clothing, candy, toys, shoes and school supplies. O'Neil said the donations have affected people's lives.
"It's amazing when you see the reactions of the kids," she said. "They really grab onto the gifts and smile and seem to be so happy with all they have been given."
In addition to distributing goods to the people of Afghanistan, the operation has extended its outreach to support servicemembers stationed at forward operation bases in remote areas by providing them with comfort items and amenities that are not always readily available in isolated areas.
Highly inconvenient and irregularly scheduled flights used to be the only means of getting supplies to these areas. Now, a travelling chaplain delivers 10 to 15 boxes per week.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Anthony S. Kazarnowicz, known by many as "Father K," began taking items to servicemembers when he would go on missions to such areas.
The servicemembers receiving Father K's boxes have sometimes not been in contact with anyone from the outside for long periods of time, O'Neil said. Many do not even have post exchanges, she added.
"In bringing packages to the servicemembers, we show them that we care very much for them," Kazarnowic said. "We do not want them to be without any of the basic necessities that we ourselves have."
The success of the program hinges on dedicated men and women who work behind the scenes to ensure its success, the chaplain noted.
"To those who prepare and send packages, I say, 'Thank you very much,'" he said. "Even more important than the contents of the boxes is the awareness that someone back in the states took the time to care."
(Army Pvt. Tamara Gabbard serves with 382nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)