S.C. Guard gives aid

BAKHTARIAN, Afghanistan -- Long before the S.C. National Guard convoy arrived Friday morning, people had lined up outside this village's community center.

They were waiting for a truck stuffed with food, clothing, shoes and toys.

In military parlance, Friday's event was a humanitarian-aid mission. But to the people who live here, it was nothing short of a miracle.

"It was 100 percent effective because the people in this village are very poor," said Malik Mirayas, the community's mayor and an elder. "Eighty percent of the people are unemployed."

In less than two hours, the troops helped 68 families, or about 450 people, said Lt. Col. Clark "Chuck" Murff, commander of the civil affairs unit of the S.C. Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team.

About 1,100 families live in the village, approximately 15 miles from Camp Phoenix, where the S.C. Guard brigade is based on the outskirts of Kabul.

Those who received aid Friday were the poorest of the poor, added Murff of Spartanburg. Village elders came up with a list of the neediest families.

The Afghan army and national police provided security and help with crowd control during the aid mission.

Having the Afghan army and police take part puts an "Afghan face" on the mission.

It also helps build trust between the local population and the Afghan army and police, Murff said: "Part of my job is to make the Afghan army and police look good."

Seeing the Afghan army and police involved helps restore public confidence in those sometimes untrusted institutions, Bakhtarian mayor Mirayas said.

Also, the good will created by the humanitarian missions helps buoy support for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Command Sgt. Maj. John Harrelson.

"The Taliban doesn't do anything like this," said Harrelson of North Myrtle Beach. "They take things away."

"Tactically," Murff added, "it's good to keep people around you friendly."

'It gives you a shock'

Friday's mission appeared to go off without a hitch. The troops had planned to stay for six hours but were done in about two hours.

One member of each family entered the courtyard of the community center. There, they went from station to station, filling a bag with adult and children's clothes, shoes, sandals, rice, a 2-liter bottle of cooking oil and a black plastic trash bag filled with personal-hygiene items, toys and a soccer ball.

In Afghan society, the male head of the family does the chores outside the home, including shopping or, in this case, picking up the clothing and food.

Three widows, though, were on the list of needy. To accommodate the women, the troops took items to their homes.

"We need to make sure we distribute the wealth," Harrelson said.

Most of the goods were donated through various organizations or by individuals, Murff said. Items like pillows, sheets and blankets often come from soldiers at Camp Phoenix who leave the bedding behind when their deployment ends.

For the S.C. troops, there was a sense of satisfaction, knowing they helped people. "I always like helping the needy," said Spc. Tracy Crump of Spartanburg.

It's hard for even someone from a less-affluent state like South Carolina to comprehend how impoverished the Afghan people are "until you see it," said First Sgt. Jimmy Williams of Marion.

"It gives you a shock, especially when you see all the small kids out alone, doing nothing. But once you see it, you understand why we have to do it."