War on Terrorism

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the Ground: U.S. Forces Help Afghans Combat Winter Weather

American Forces Press Service

Feb. 24, 2009 - U.S. forces are helping Afghans tough out severe winter weather. In recent efforts, U.S. forces aided Afghans in a snowstorm-struck province, provided kits to weather future storms and donated supplies to residents in need.

Members of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team provided humanitarian assistance after a snowstorm killed three people, injured two and displaced 18 families in the province's Paryan district.

The snowstorm affected 111 villages and nearly 46,000 residents in the district, officials said, as well as 60,000 cows, sheep and goats. The storm blocked roads and damaged buildings and other structures, hindering emergency response.

Gov. Alhaj G. Bahlol coordinated efforts among various sectors including public health, agriculture, the Afghan National Police and the PRT to quickly position relief supplies for displaced families and villages cut off from access to the main road.

While the provincial and district leaders planned logistics, the PRT provided supplies including blankets, clothes, boots, charcoal and flour.

"The winter is a challenging season for the people living in these remote villages," said Army Master Sgt. Blue Rowe, PRT civil affairs noncommissioned officer in charge. "As a good neighbor, when situations like this happen, we like to do what we can to assist as soon as possible."

The PRT is working to make future winters easier for the valley's 300,000 residents through the construction of a 40-mile main road that will connect Panjshir to the Badakhshan province, opening economic opportunities. Side roads also will be paved, connecting remote villages to the main road.

Once complete, the road projects will improve the provincial government's ability to respond to emergencies by providing easier access to the population.

In Konar province, residents are gaining tools to combat the winter weather as well, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The agency has distributed more than 1,000 winterization kits throughout the province. Each kit contains blankets, coats, stoves and other winter-survival items.

The initial distribution took place in Konar's northern districts. Five districts each received 200 kits. The local Konar government provided transportation to the remote Manogai, Nari, Chapa Dara, Dangam and Ghazi Abad districts so district governors could distribute the items.

"Ghazi Abad, Nari and Asmar have been the PRT's focus for humanitarian assistance distribution programs through the Konar government. We have been working with our USAID counterparts so that together we create the biggest positive impact possible," Army Spc. David Saenz, Konar PRT member, said. "Distributing through the local Konar government has enabled us to reach the people who need this help the most."

The supplies can prove vital to survival, particularly in the more remote areas.

"Many locals have not travelled more than 20 miles from their village, have never seen a city and do not have access to electricity," Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Randall McGee, Konar PRT member, said. "However, the expanding Afghanistan government, with the help of USAID, has been working to help these secluded families receive goods and services to survive the winter."

More than 1,000 additional kits will be sent to Konar province to be distributed to other districts.

In other humanitarian efforts, servicemembers from Forward Operating Base Lightning and members of the Afghan National Army are working together to provide humanitarian assistance to local villagers.

Through donations from various Web sites, churches and the Boy Scouts of America, FOB Lightning volunteers are assembling packages of winter clothes, food, toys, school supplies and shoes for Afghans.

"We are trying to help people any way we can," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Magnum of the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team said.

"It defies belief of what they don't have," Army Col. Kevin Hulett of the Illinois National Guard said. "There are kids around our [forward operating base] with no shoes, no socks in 2 or 3 inches of snow."

A small gift goes a long way, Hulett said. "The children are elated. They are all smiles. A bag of pencils, a bag of crayons, a little notebook or a Hot Wheels car are a treasured item to these children."

(From U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO's International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan news releases. Navy Lt. j.g. James Dietle of 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Army Capt. Stacie Shafran of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team and Army Pfc. Derek Kuhn of the 40th Public Affairs Detachment contributed to this article.)

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