War on Terrorism

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Civil Affairs Team Brings Change to Afghan Province

By Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller
Special to American Forces Press Service

May 21, 2009 - The civil affairs soldiers based at Forward Operating Base Blessing here have one goal for the province: change. "That's what it's all about, change," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Campos, the civil affairs team's noncommissioned officer in charge. "You have to show the people that change is coming, and it's coming soon."

Since arriving in Afghanistan in October, Army Cpl. Ronald Clemente and his two fellow Army reservists for the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion, based in San Diego, have been working toward bringing that change, fighting to win the local people's trust with development instead of weapons.

"I don't believe you can win this war without winning the hearts and minds of its people; that's our goal," Clemente said.

The team, nicknamed "Eureka," is responsible for development in three of the province's districts, and is one of many such teams spread throughout Regional Command East. Unlike a provincial reconstruction team, which handles large-scale projects such as building roads, the smaller civil affairs team's mission is to provide humanitarian assistance and projects that will have an immediate impact on local areas.

"[We] go into the villages doing assessments, talking to the people, see what they need or want, and what [projects] we can do for them for economic growth, or to assist them in their livelihood," Campos said.

Some of the projects the team has completed include building bridges and schools and providing solar-powered lights for villages. The team also is planning its most ambitious idea, a hydro-dam project that will provide electricity to an entire district.

"It's a big project," Campos said. "It will end up being a 200 kilowatt and a 100 kilowatt micro-hydro-dam that will light up most of Nangalam district.

"A lot of these people didn't think this kind of change was possible in their lifetimes," he continued. "Being able to do stuff like walk down a lit street at night, that's major for them."

With 30 projects already completed within its three assigned districts, the team contributes a large part of its success, to the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which they directly support.

"We've been very fortunate to have them," said Army Sgt. W. Vance Adams, civil affairs team member. "If it wasn't for them being readily available to take us on missions, and conduct the [key leader engagements], we wouldn't be as successful as we have been."

However, their success did not come easily. When the team first arrived to Afghanistan, the soldiers struggled to understand a culture very different from their own.

"The Afghan culture is over 2,000 years old; we were given two months to learn about it," Adams said. "You can learn the generalities of it, and some of the local customs that they do, but the background of these people is almost impenetrable."

Although the civil affairs team and the 1st Infantry Division soldiers they support will be leaving in coming months, the soldiers said they hope their hard work will have a lasting contribution for the people of Kunar province.

(Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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