Pentagon Airman: Schools in Afghanistan, patrolling in Iraq

News media focus is on how Afghanistan is deteriorating. Coverage has centered onthe latest attack in that troubled land and the number of soldiers killed – as if every U.S. casualty is a Soldier.

At the risk of being a Pollyanna and focusing only on the good, there are good things happening in Afghanistan. U.S. and coalition troops are making a difference. The Air Force Link Web site recently posted stories highlighting the good happening.

The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team opened a school for girls in Qalat in south central Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, wrote about the school’s opening, Reconstruction team opens new girls’ school in Afghanistan.

The Bibi Khala Girls’ School has approximately 1,500 students. The PRT members built a new building with eight classrooms which will hold computer programming and biology classes, and contain chemistry laboratories. Lt. Col. Andy Veres, Zabul PRT commander, said Bibi Khala will be a “magnet school” for young women in the province.

Sergeant Smythe included a great quote from one of the interpreters about the effect the new school has on local Afghans.

“The teachers, principal, students and the governor were very excited,” said one interpreter. “The teachers couldn’t stop talking about this event. They were talking about the dark time of Taliban when they couldn’t go to school. Some of the teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of the girls asked if we were coming back that we bring more pencils, notebooks and things like that.”

The story also had a great quote from Ching Eikenberry about the importance of educating young Afghan women. She is the wife of U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

“Why is education important? Because it is a key to another world,” she said. “You will be able to help your maleks [also malik, a tribal leader in Afghanistan], you may get a better job, you may get a better life and you may have an opportunity to travel around the world,” Ms. Eikenberry said. “But most importantly, you have the ability to help other people. When you’re educated, you have knowledge, you have confidence … and that brings the beauty out of you.”

The Zabul PRT also laid a foundation for a new high school for girls in Shajoy, Afghanistan. Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos, U.S. Air Force Central combat camera team, wrote a story about the Oct. 26 event (American servicemembers in Afghanistan break ground for new high school). This is the first girls’ high school in Zabul province.

The Zabul governor said the ground breaking is momentous for his people.

“This is a very historical moment,” said Gov. Muhammad Ashraf Naseri. “This gives us an opportunity to educate all of our children, who are the future of Afghanistan. We Afghans are looking for a peaceful life, and education is how we will find it.”

The Zabul PRT civil affairs officer said this event shows a commitment by Zabul for the province’s future.

“The Taliban oppresses its people by keeping them primarily uneducated and illiterate,” said Army 1st Lt. Robert Smalls. “A town that has the opportunity to send its children, and especially its girls, to school, will shed some of that oppression off of them.

“Our hope is that this will further educate the people of this community, giving them the chance to make their community their own, free from any outside influences,” he added.

Shifting to Iraq, a new base security procedure is keeping servicemembers safe at Joint Base Balad. Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski wrote a great story at Airmen patrol outside to protect inside. Airmen from 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron conduct patrols outside the base to ensure the base’s safety.

An Airman deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said the patrols also have an outside-the-wire effect on local Iraqis.

“They don’t want violence in their villages and homes, so if we’re friendly with them, they’re more likely to work with us,” said Tech. Sgt. Emmett Mack III, a squad leader. “We talk to the locals, and if they have needs that aren’t being met, we work with the Army teams who are handling that aspect of the mission. But our job helps them as well as us.”

A three-tour veteran of Iraq from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., said the patrols help create a relationship with local Iraqis.

“We don’t get mortared nearly as much as we used to,” said Senior Airman Brendan Cunniff. “A lot of that is because of these patrols. (Locals) see us every day and if people know you, they’re less likely to want to see you get hurt.”

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)


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