by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
8/19/2013 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- It
was part of the international relationship building he spoke about to
the graduating pilots from Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program,
Aug. 9. 2013, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, that has propelled Lt.
Gen. (Ret.) John Bradley into a post-military career passion.
During his service as the chief of Air Force Reserves and commander of
Air Force Reserve Command, he made multiple trips to Afghanistan to
visit Reserve Airmen deployed to the region under his command.
Hearing about the great need for humanitarian aid for the war-torn,
impoverished people all over Afghanistan, he and his wife decided they
would fill an empty C-17 with blankets, shoes, cold weather clothing and
medical supplies during a scheduled trip in 2007. In all, he delivered
40,000 pounds on 14 cargo pallets.
During that fateful trip, an Air Force Office of Special Investigations
agent accompanied him to a small village near the base to hand deliver
the goods. The area was primitive, littered with trash and mud thatched
housing. The homes have no glass in the windows and no kitchen, except
for a hole in the center of the dirt floor where all meals are cooked on
a "camp fire" style flame. The places they consider a bathroom restroom
is a hole in the earth. And the town has one well where water is drawn.
"It's heart wrenching to go there and see the extreme poverty that
exists in Afghanistan," Jan said. "I love to go there and be immersed in
their culture. The Afghan people are very gracious and hospitable. They
are grateful, hardworking and patient, but they are tired of war. We
hope that what little we do has a positive impact on some of the most
disenfranchised people in the world. They deserve a better life."
As Bradley was handing out supplies in late 2007, surrounded by young
boys, his attention was caught by a little girl wearing sandals, ragged
clothing and a red head covering, who fought her way to the front to
meet the man in the uniform. She spoke Farsi pointing at his feet.
"I was handing out blankets in this village, and this little 9-year-old
girl came up to me and begged me for some boots like the ones I was
wearing," he said. "It was December and she was cold and wearing
sandals, which is very typical. Her name was Lamia, no last name. She's
never been to school."
Not being able to help her at that moment weighed on his mind for the
rest of the trip. Once he returned home, he shared his experience to his
wife, and how he promised to send her a pair. Jan, his wife,
immediately went out and bought items to stuff four boxes to send back,
including four pairs of boots, not knowing what size she wore. They
mailed the boxes to the OSI agent with a request to find Lamia -- armed
with only a picture and a personal note to her.
"They found her and her uncle, brought them to the base with a local
policeman, fed them and gave them the boxes," he said. In the letter he
wrote "I was glad to meet you, Lamia, I hope these things help. I'm
going to be back in a few months...and I would love to see you again."
On the subsequent trip, Lamia and her family were again brought to the
base where her family was treated to a meal with Bradley at the dining
facility, along with 15 more boxes of supplies and a bicycle.
Bradley never forgot about his experience. Upon his retirement in 2008
as a lieutenant general, he sat down with his wife regarding what they
would do after the Air Force. Remembering the joy of dealing with Lamia
and her family, the very short conversation turned into a small
non-profit organization to build schools in Afghanistan - the Lamia
"She is our inspiration," he said. "We see Lamia every time we go. Her
family is very poor and live in atypical Afghan mud house in a rural
village with no running water, electricity, no glass in the windows,
heat or bathroom in the house."
The Bradleys go to Afghanistan twice a year and spend a month. The April
2013 delivery of humanitarian supplies marked their seventh trip and
more than two million pounds of food, clothing, blankets, boots, shoes,
school supplies, medical supplies and equipment for distribution around
Kabul area schools, hospitals and refugee camps.
"The only way to combat extremism is to fight the desperation of
illiteracy and poverty with education and economic opportunity," Jan
said. "Military might cannot fix that."
The foundation he and Jan established also concentrates on the education
of young Afghan girls, though they have built schools for both genders.
Working with the Afghan minister of education, they coordinate every
trip and determine current needs and possible new school locations. They
provide the teachers, book and curriculum and the foundation supplies
the building, furniture and supplies. They are currently working on
building their sixth school for 500 girls.
"I believe education is the key to the future in Afghanistan," he said.
"I believe in educating boys as well. Boys have all the opportunity in
the world in Afghanistan, and girls don't.
"When you educate a boy," he said of his worldwide concept on education,
"you educate a boy. When you educate a girl, you educate a family."
He explained these girls will grow up to be wives and mothers who teach
their boys how to treat girls the right way. They will teach their girls
the importance of education, so they can lean skill, get a job and help
support their families.
"After we do this for a couple of generations, the culture over there
might change some," he said. "It's gonna take a long while to change the
culture. It's a sensitive subject to talk about changing cultures for
people. They need to make some changes relative to women and women's
rights. Education is what will make that happen."
More than 100 percent of the foundation money goes to building schools
and humanitarian aid, as the Bradleys support all of their own travel
and living expenses from his own pocket. They feel this helps across the
board for both the Afghan people and the United States by helping win
hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
"It's a miniscule part of it, but we think what we do is important to
our American national effort there," he said. "I think I owe something
back. This nation has been very good to me. This Air Force has been very
good to me. I've been blessed."
To accomplish this, the Bradleys have become citizen experts on the
Denton Program, a government program which allows private U.S. citizens
and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes
to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need.
"It is really difficult to get this stuff over there because it is a
complicated process," he said. "It goes over on C-17s and it might get
there in a couple of weeks or two to three months. It all depends on
whether there is space available on the airplanes.
"It's been a great program for us and we've enjoyed doing it," he said.
According to the Denton Program office, the general said they have
shipped more humanitarian aid than any other non-government entity in
Another trip is planned for the Bradleys in near future. They are
working 12-hour days collecting items to fill cargo planes already in
route. With two million pounds of humanitarian supplies and counting, it
all started because a little Afghan girl knew all she wanted was a pair