Task Force Patriot Soldiers visit Afghan orphanage
January 20, 2011
BAMYAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Soldiers from New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team and U.S. Soldiers from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), gave gifts to Afghan children at an orphanage in Bamyan Province last month.
The Bamyan orphanage, home to about 50 children, receives little to no funding from outside sources and depends mostly on donations. U.S. and New Zealand Soldiers from Kiwi Base in Bamyan are willing to lend a helping hand to the children whenever they can.
"We try to go out there every two weeks," said Maj. Richard Ojeda, Afghan National Security Force adviser assigned to 4th BCT's Task Force Patriot. "When we go out on missions, we will take stuff with us (for the children)."
Ojeda said he hopes the children will remember the help coalition forces are providing them now when they grow up, so they won't be eager to believe that Americans are the bad guys.
Soldiers came prepared with many boxes of goodies for the children as they entered the orphanage. The children met the Soldiers with excitement and anticipation.
"The basics we try to give out are the long-lasting stuff, so what we gave out is blankets ... clothing (and) shoes," said New Zealand army Capt. Calvin McMillan, PRT supply logistics officer. "We like to give hygiene items ... writing gear, the stationery items, book bags (and) stuff that will make a difference (and) be more long-lasting than candy."
Ojeda sat children on the back of his vehicle and personally found pairs of shoes to fit the children. Their responses took him aback.
"(The children had) smiles from ear to ear. It really does us a lot (of good to see the happy children)," he said. "Every one of us (in Bamyan) has been to multiple combat tours. Ninety-nine percent of the time when you go on a combat tour, you're focused on one thing, which is taking out the bad guy. For us to get the opportunity over here to also make this deployment mean something more than just finding the bad guys - it means everything."
The children are so poor, one almost has to see it themselves to believe it. Ojeda said children at Bamyan orphanage pick up mule droppings and make patties out of them to generate heat. The mule droppings will burn for an hour in their stove, "and that's one hour of heat that gets them through the night," he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Luppa Gilchrist, TF Patriot supply noncommissioned officer attached to TF Bamyan, handed out lotions, soaps and feminine-hygiene products to girls of the orphanage. She said Soldiers take up collections around the base but otherwise depend on what people send them from the United States to have things to give the children.
Ojeda uses his social network of friends to help send things for the children at the local orphanage. He said Soldiers at Bamyan get messages on social networking sites constantly asking what they need.
"Here in Bamyan we have a nice dining facility - the food is great - (and) a good gym. Our living quarters are small, but we have pretty much everything we need," Ojeda said. "So a lot of us are asking people to take the opportunities to go in their closets and pull out old shoes that they aren't using, old clothes their kids have outgrown and send those over to us."
The ability to give the children toys, blankets and other items means even more to soldiers of Kiwi Base at Christmas time. Soldiers are living up to the adage, "It's better to give than to receive."
"When we were driving away (from the orphanage) there was an aura of joy ... and it really made my day to see a little smile and a (twinkling) ... in the kids' eyes," McMillan said. "You kind of feel like you are Santa Claus ... because we handed out all these really cool things that these kids are really going to use."