Yes, I am well aware that Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are on your minds. Fair point, it’s all things Iowa. That said, I am guessing if you’re anything like me, you’re ready for a new topic. As such, I will give you a brief post-Afghanistan readout. While I had intended to write from the road, war-zone conditions made it less than easy to accomplish.
As you know, I was in Afghanistan last week, laying the ground work for a model village project in the province of Herat. The Marshall Plan Charities team and I finally arrived in country last Sunday, Aug. 7, after about 36 hours of planes, planes, and more planes. (Go ahead and Google Herat and Shindand Airfield and you will get a feel for our exact geographic location). To set the scene, we have posted some pictures for you of our trek and arrival.
We arrived at Herat International and were immediately greeted by a swarm of very intent Afghani boys (ranging from ages 6 to 10) with wheelbarrows — in 106 degree heat — ready and persistent on carrying our bags. Talk about a strong work ethic — no cartoon-watching here. The thought of being able to help provide these children — girls and boys — with books and better access to heath care became immediately exponentially more exciting. And the thought of being able to provide their parents with greater agricultural opportunities, cleaner drinking water, and vocational training was equally as exciting.
We arrived at Shindand Airfield later that evening — our home home for the week. And, to all of the U.S and Italian troops there, let it be known that we are so grateful and thankful for your hospitality.
Our first meeting with the U.S. military officers in command of the base took place soon after our arrival. Much to our surprise, the MPC team learned that the Shindand Airfield is about to become the economic engine of Herat. Let me explain:
- Shindand Airfield is about to become the first-ever pilot training base for the Afghan Air force. Our U.S. forces will begin training the first class of Afghan Air force pilots this December. This is no insignificant news.
- In addition, the Shindand Airfield is soon to become the home of the Afghan National Army Regional Center. This is will be a joint coalition effort, shared by Hungary, Italy, Slovenia and the United States.
What does this mean for Marshall Plan Charities? With Shindand Airfield at the helm of economic empowerment in Herat, MPC will be privately mirroring what our U.S. military forces and their allies are already publicly doing for the region. The synergy could not be better for the model village project, and we are thrilled to be complimenting the magnificent work that is already happening here.
Days Two and Three of the MPC trip were spent in back-to-back meetings with the Italian Military Command, district ministers, our agricultural advisor and the deputy governor of the Shindand District. These were a series of very detailed meetings wherein the team was nailing down specific details with respect to timelines and contracts. The take-away from all of the meetings was that the MPC model village project for Khairabad has the overwhelming support of the Italian Command, the Shindand District leadership. Now, the real work is ready to commence in just a matter of weeks.
Hope in sight
Day Four was the highlight and culmination of our trip – this was the day for our site visit to Khairabad (the home of our model village project) and personal meeting with Village Elder Siyyad Fazel Ahmad. Truth be told, our penultimate meetings in Khairabad with Fazel and his fellow village elders could scarcely have gone better. We were given a 15 armored vehicle convoy from Firebase Thomas to Khairabad and its surrounding areas by the Italian Military Command. More specifically, the convoy was personally led by the commanding Italian military officer for the entire western Afghanistan battle space, Col. Patane – an Omar Shariff figure straight out of central casting. (He was paired with his second in command, a “young Tony Curtis” type.) Our convoy set out at 7 a.m. sharp and, an hour and a half later, we were at the home of Village Elder Siyyad Fazel Ahmad.
When Fazel Ahmad laid eyes on Lt. Commander Doug Rine (our MPC Advisor), it was a reunion for the ages. This smiling, battle-hardened warlord simply could not believe that “my brother had come back.” Fazel convened a meeting of over 30 village elders in his shura room during Ramadan, no less. Having 3o elders essentially meant that we were party to the oldest living male from every family in Khairabad. Much to our relief, Fazel opened the meeting by reciting – unprompted – every pledge that we were hoping to seek from the village for MPC.
Fazel started by saying that, “this is a dream come true for the people of Shouz and Khairabad. MPC is here to implement projects that we’ve been waiting for…especially the school, which will only double-up our community.” Fazel continued, “Whatever you choose to help us with, we are going to cherish it, take care of it, and make the best use of it.” Fazel’s words were a relief, for as much as we are excited about giving aid to this village, we are also adament that the village do their part by making this project their responsibility.
After Fazel finished with his opening words, we played a personal message via DVD that Joanne Herring had taped and sent for Fazel and his elders to hear. Fazel translated while Joanne played on screen. The crowd – sitting in 90 degree heat while fasting through Ramadan – was captivated by Joanne’s message and promise. It was quite a moment. We then got down to work by discussing the details of village responsibilities in exchange for the project work that MPC is about to embark on.
Italian Commander Patane endorsed our program to the group of elders and noted that, “today marks just the first brick of the wall that we are going to build in this area.” The symbolism of the brick wall is quite fitting, because at the end of the day the Afghanis want a return to security and stability. This security is both physical and internal. This security is physical, in terms of the Italian and U.S. troop presence that is offering stability to the region as a counterpoint to the insurgency. But it is also understood that this security must also become internal, through the strengthening of villages that are educated, nourished, healthy and productive.
Back to the shura. After contracts were further discussed, gifts were exchanged and pictures were shot, we all headed out to the land that Elder Jamal personally granted for the MPC school project and drinking well. It was quite amazing. There we all stood, in the dessert – 30 village elders, our Italian partners, the MPC team, and little boys from the village excitedly running all around us. It was a tizzy of promise and teary eyed men.
And while it is true that there were no little girls running around, there is hope in sight now that even the little girls will have the opportunity to be standing, even running around, on the school grounds very, very soon.
To all of us who were born in, or are citizens of, America, we are so fortunate. So fortunate.
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