“The purpose of the event was to invite our Afghan partners to the FOB to celebrate the New Year,” said Michael Obryon, Paktya PRT U.S. Dept of State rep. “It was also an opportunity for us to deepen our relationships, and to learn more about the Afghan New Year.”
The New Year holiday is a 3-day affair in Afghanistan. The 1st day is the welcoming of the New Year, the 2nd day is for the celebration of education, and the 3rd day is focused on the celebration of agriculture and growth.
The PRT and ADT are partnering with Paktya reps and ANSF to honor those celebrations by delivering trees, backpacks, school supplies and athletic equipment to various schools throughout the prov. “The good coordination we have with our coalition partners shows great achievement for our prov.,” said Gov. Hamdard. “I hope for a peaceful, secure and stable New Year.”
Gray is now a squad leader, and has an uncanny knack for getting himself and his team out of tight spots. Even before joining the Army, Gray found ways out of potentially hairy situations. He grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a town about the same size as Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Prov., where he now patrols.
As a teenager, he watched war movies and idolized the men in those action roles who wore Screaming Eagle patches on their shoulders. "If you see TV or movies, who wouldn't choose the 101st?" Gray said. "If you see 'Hamburger Hill' with those dudes charging up the side of a mountain, who wouldn't want to do that?"
After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, he quickly joined the 101st AD, and deployed again to Iraq with 3rd BCT for 15 months. Now, 10 months into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, Gray stares out of his makeshift fighting position into the Shigal Valley. "You see something?" another Soldier asked. "Ah, it's just dead trees."
"Make sure you know where it's coming from before you shoot; know what I mean?," said Gray to the Soldier. "I expect an RPG to come from that ridgeline over there." It was quiet for a few minutes as the Soldiers scanned the ridges with their weapons.
Then Gray said, "Actually, it's my sons' birthdays today. Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5 years old, March 16. Gray said that he sent home a bow and arrow set for their presents. He started laughing. "Last time I was home, one of them was walking around the gas station we were at singing the Pledge of Allegiance," Gray said. "I thought that was pretty cool."
One of the main reasons Gray has stayed in the Army is because of his 2 sons. He's able to care for them, but they also look up to and admire him for being a Soldier. "They want camouflage stuff; ya know they're 5," Gray said with a smile. "They want the G.I. Joe backpack, and I think that's pretty cool."
Then he explained the difference between being a squad leader and a father. "Over here, a squad leader is more difficult than taking care of kids," Gray explained. "Here, you have to check to make sure their mags are full, their combat optics are tied down; you have to check everything. Small things have bigger consequences over here."
Since joining the Army, Gray has learned that it's the little things that count. "The Army changed my life a lot," Gray said. "It kind of distilled something in me. I started doing the right thing. I respect myself more, and I respect others more."
After dodging as many more ambushes as he can in his 3 years left in the military, he plans on going to college and walking into one more ambush: being swarmed by children. "I want to be a kindergarten teacher," Gray said.
The fighting position on the mountain was quiet for a moment, and then erupted with muffled laughter from his troops. "Everybody laughs, but that's what I want to do," added Gray. "I love kids."
KHOWST PROVINCE — The supplies included backpacks, notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, crayons, paint, soccer balls, Afghan national flags and radios. “People don’t realize the impact a simple pen can have on an Afghan child’s life,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Jamie Johnson, Khowst PRT info ops officer. “Holding true to their culture, the Afghans have a saying that 'the pen is stronger than the sword, because a sword brings fighting while a pen brings education and peace.'”
Navy Capt. Steve Deal, the Khowst PRT cmdr., talked with Bad Shah Gul, a rep of the dir. of education, and several teachers about expectations for the school year, and the progress of the new school building that the PRT is constructing for the students of Hassan Koat.“There are currently 242 active schools in Khowst Prov.,” said Gul. “We expect 200,000 students to attend school this year, and 40,000 of those students will be girls.” “Education is the key to bringing change and awareness in Afghanistan,” said Navy Lt. Mark Fetterman, an engr. officer. “These new schools will create a venue for teaching, and influencing the pivotal future leaders of this country.” The PRT’s 2nd stop was Warga Middle School. Capt. Deal greeted the teachers and students there with an Afghan flag, which they proudly displayed on the roof. “I was amazed at how fast they raised their flag,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Louis Kaloudis, a SECFORs NCO. “After they raised it, they couldn’t take their eyes off it.” The final stop was the girls’ school, Bibi Haleema. The dir. of Women’s Affairs Dept, Khawar Amiri, and reporters from Heelo Karwan radio station, a station dedicated to women’s programming, met the PRT and the principal at the school. While school supplies were being unloaded, members of the FET met with the principal of the school, Hassina. “While Bibi Haleema currently has over 4,500 female students, a majority of the girls are not allowed to continue with education once they become a teenager,” said Hassina. “In this culture, once girls become women, they're expected to stay inside the house,” said Johnson. “We discussed future education goals for the Afghan girls that attend the school, and how we can encourage women to continue their education by attending college.” All told, the PRT distributed more than 100 boxes of school supplies, clothing and toys to the 3 schools.
“The PRT wouldn't have been as successful without the support and donations from American volunteer orgs., public schools and patriotic Americans that take time to collect, donate, purchase and send these packages in support of PRT Khowst and its mission,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Prayot Bunmeema, a hospital corpsman.
The combined force also took steps to restore the land that ANSF and CFs had been using for bases and observation posts, prior to the realignment of forces in the Pech River Valley. These actions included the demolition of unnecessary structures, and the removal of the debris.“We continue to show the enemy that they can't terrorize the innocent Afghan people of the Darah-Ye Pech,” said ANA Maj. Shirin Agha, PAO. “The ANSF are determined that the enemies of Afghanistan will not bring back the terror they once inflicted on the people.” ASNF and CF engaged 5 insurgents during the op. “There’s been a lot of talk in the media recently about what our realignment of forces will mean for security, and for the future of law-abiding and hard-working Afghans in the Pech River Valley. Some have asked if we’ve abandoned the Pech. I think this op answers that question," said Lt. Col. Joe Ryan, 1st Bn, 327th ID, TF Bulldog, cmdr. "The ANA successfully assumed control of Nangalam Base. The ANA, supported by the Coalition, continues to pursue insurgents in the Korengal and Shuryek Valleys. Peace will follow.”
“The Int'l Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan does not make a functional hand, just a hook. I thought the hand would help him more,” said Lawson, a National Guardsman. “I wanted this young man to be able to continue his education and ease the difficulty he will face in doing so.”"A company out of California called Helping Hands makes the prostheses and ships them to several developing countries, who would not otherwise receive any assistance," said Lawson. "It's all charity-based and doesn’t cost anything." Lawson reached out to the nonprofit org., to request the prosthetic limbs.The boy stayed at Craig Hospital until he was stable and fitted with his new arms. He was then transferred to the Egyptian Hospital at Bagram Airfield to receive more training before he and his family went home. “I visited him frequently to check on his prosthesis and encourage him to practice using them,” said Lawson.“I thought we were going to have to make something for him,” said Col. Robinette Amaker, occupational therapy consultant to the U.S. Army surgeon general, currently attached to Intel & Sust Co, HHB, 101st AD. “The prostheses we put on him are very crude prosthetics, but they're functional and he will be able to take care of himself.”Amaker said the love and honor of his family made it difficult for her and Lawson to get the child to train with his new arms.
“In their culture, when they have a devastating injury, the family wants to take over and take care of the injured person’s needs. For example, his brother said during our last visit that he will feed him until his dying days,” Amaker said. “However, we had to convey to the brother and the rest of the family the importance of independence, because this child has the ability to learn. And if something happened to his brother, it would leave him helpless unless he has acquired the skills he needs to take care of himself.”The boy left Bagram March 24 to head back home with his family. Lawson and Amaker are completing a plan to support the boy and his training. Though the prostheses will last him a while, Amaker said he will eventually outgrow them. “Lt. Lawson is currently looking for a therapist near the boy’s hometown, so that he can continue his training throughout his life, and when he gets new ones, he should be able to get the training he needs there instead of having to come back to Bagram,” she said.Lawson has decided to continue her efforts in helping amputees in Afghanistan. “I'm hoping to connect this company with ICRC so that they can mail prostheses directly to Kabul ,and help other people with hand amputations.”
U.S. Division-North Public Affairs
109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Faces of Freedom video: SSG Daniel Maynard
Video by Sgt. Kristi Potts
Package about Staff Sgt. Daniel Maynard, Charlie Troop, 1st Sqdn, 9th Cav. Reg., 4th AAB, 1st Cav. Div., training the IA on urban ops at Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center in Ninewa Province, March 20, 2011
Video by Sgt. Kristi Potts