War on Terrorism

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Soldiers Take 'Extreme Makeover' to Afghanistan

By Army Pfc. Melissa Stewart
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 10, 2009 - Soldiers with Combined Joint Task Force 82 are bringing their own version of the hit ABC-TV reality show "Extreme Makeover" to this eastern Afghan province. But instead of entertainment television, soldiers operating in the Charkh district are on a humanitarian mission they hope will give residents better options than turning to the Taliban for help. The soldiers recently began working with local nationals to improve their communities, one project at a time, through the Extreme Makeover program.

Their goal is to communicate with village leaders and encourage them to develop their communities on their own. After the projects are completed, NATO's International Security Assistance Force will reimburse the money that was spent on each project up to $5,000.

"We are trying to just talk to the locals and see what they need because they are turning towards the enemy, just looking for simple handouts," said Army Spc. Justin Morris, who serves with 10th Mountain Division's 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company B.

"We are just trying to give them jobs and help them out where we need too," Morris added.

By providing the locals with jobs in their own community, people may stop turning to the Taliban for financial assistance and become more self-sustaining.

In the past, when locals have turned to the Taliban for financial assistance, they were given money to attack NATO troops, local residents and military, officials said.

Although the locals may have had no malicious intent toward ISAF forces, their financial needs sometimes make it easy to do what they see as necessary to provide for their families.

"Some of the reasons they fight right now is because they don't have enough water to grow their crops," said Army Capt. Jason Wingeart, Company B commander. "Therefore, it lowers the amount of money they are going to earn and if they don't have money, they can't put food on their table."

Hopefully, the projects not only will help decrease Taliban influence, but also encourage locals to take responsibility for the development of their own communities.

"What we want to do is tell you to start work on that project," said Army 1st Lt. Ryan Adams, 3rd Platoon, B Company, executive officer, to a village elder who expressed concern about building a footbridge. "Once you are finished with that project, you are going to call us and we are going to come down here and look at the project and then we can give you the money for it."

While Extreme Makeover projects have been well received, it still will take time for marked progress to be seen in villages.

"There is a change in the people," Wingeart said. "It's sometimes hard to see, but they are starting to come on board."

Task Force Spartan troops with 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, are implementing the Extreme Makeover project. If the project catches on in Logar province, ISAF officials hope to implement it throughout Regional Command East.

(Army Pfc. Melissa Stewart serves with 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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