By Army Lt. Col. Paul Fanning
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 7, 2008 - Donations of school supplies and children's clothing from military families and friends at home are helping deployed New York Army National Guard soldiers in their mission to mentor and train the Afghan national security forces and support the Afghan people. Members of the Afghan National Police delivered hundreds of pounds of schools supplies, children's clothing and shoes sent over from New York communities to boys and girls of the Afshar School in the suburbs of the Afghan capital of Kabul on Oct. 4.
Humanitarian assistance missions help Afghan families and build bonds of trust for the nation's developing army and police forces. Trainers and mentors from Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, part of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, guide and support national police and army units as they conduct local efforts.
Nearly 1,700 members of the New York National Guard's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix to serve on embedded training and police mentoring teams, security force units, logistics teams and for the task force headquarters.
Increasingly, military family members, friends, youth groups and civic organizations back in New York are taking an active role by sending donations to their deployed loved ones that are in turn used to help the Afghan people.
Clothing, footwear and school supplies are eagerly sought. Operations that bring police to schools and villages to deliver security messages as well as gifts encourage local support for the Afghan government and improve conditions for the people.
"The Afghan National police is the face of the Afghan government at the local level," said Army Col. Gary Yaple, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix and the New York National Guard's 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Syracuse. "Our intent is to place the Afghans first and in the lead, and we support. This is their nation. These are their communities, families and children. The more support they provide, the more they build for their government. They still need our help, but much progress is being made."
The three-hour mission on Oct. 4 included 23 U.S. personnel assigned to a police mentoring team with Afghan Regional Security Integration Command Kabul and logistics task force troops. The team moved to the headquarters of police District 5, where 1st Lt. Faisal Reza from the Bronx, Master Sgt. Michael Molgaard from Ithaca, and Staff Sgt. Deanna Bizette from Florence, S.C., conferred with the local police chief on the operation plan. Then a dozen officers moved out with the Phoenix team for the school.
They set up a security perimeter, and U.S. troops and Afghan police unloaded three trailers of donations. These were placed in a faculty office, and teachers began to distribute to the neediest students.
"The donations came from various people in the Tompkins County area," said Capt. Robert Romano from Ithaca, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix headquarters.
"My mother organized the drive with support from several local church groups," he said, adding that Linda Pasto, the mother of another deployed officer, and a local chapter of "The Red Hat Society," a woman's group, also made significant contributions.
"Clothing was collected, inspected, packed and shipped by my mother, Marie Romano, and my wife, Lana," the captain said. "The first load amounted to about 650 pounds."
Another shipment weighing in at 1,100 pounds already is on the way, he added. "The police chief and teachers seemed especially happy with a large box of children's shoes and another one that contained winter jackets and sweaters."
Later, the local police chief personally handed out school supplies, clothing and shoes. He also talked to the children with a simple message: "People should not be afraid to come to the police to ask for help. The police are there for the people."
(Army Lt. Col. Paul Fanning serves in the Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix Public Affairs Office.)