ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Sept. 9, 2009) -- A country's future depends upon the people connecting with the government. Afghanistan has held only its second democratic elections since ousting the Taliban in 2001 and now is trying to rebuild the government's relationship with its people.
Coalition forces provide a helping hand through the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
"[The purpose is] to give hope and a means for a better future to people recovering from war and oppression under a totalitarian regime," said Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Veres, the PRT-Zabul commander from Melbourne, Fla.
PRT-Zabul is located in the heart of Qalat City. The PRT is a civil and military organization that brings reconstruction, development, governance and security to the province. Representatives from the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development work with the PRT to help the Afghans live in a free and democratic country. They work hand and hand with Mohommad Ashraf Naseri, the Zabul province governor, and his staff to improve the lifestyle of the Afghan people throughout the province.
"We [the PRT] try to build the government infrastructure in a small community from the smallest element and up," said Army 1st Sgt. Conrad Gamez, the PRT-Zabul senior enlisted from Melbourne, Fla.
The PRT has more than 20 ongoing projects all through the province. The team works on projects that include everything from building community centers, schools and roads to providing agricultural training. Local unskilled laborers also have the opportunity to attend mechanic, welding or nursing training at the PRT. The nursing program is a yearlong course. Each course provides Afghans with marketable skills, according to Air Force Cpt. Rick E. Vermillion, a PRT-Zabul civil engineer from Fillmore, Calif. All the PRT efforts are focused on meeting the governor's priorities outlined in the provincial development plan.
"The main thing we are trying to do is boost their economy," said Vermillion. "If we are hiring a local Afghan, he is putting money into his home to feed his family."
An economy is based on the production, exchange, distribution and consumption in an area. The team tries to improve the economy by providing and creating jobs for Afghans. For example, local contractors place bids on construction projects much like how contractors operate in the U.S. The PRT selects contractors based on past performance, capabilities and quality for the best price.
"We are the construction firm," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Field, a PRT-Zabul infrastructure craftsman from Bellfast, Maine. "If a large company wanted to build a skyscraper in New York City, we will be the guys to talk to [in order to] build on budget and on time."
The PRT extends its arms in every facet of the provincial government to include the Ministry of Public Health. The team has provided advice and assistance with matters dealing with the health of Zabul's population. The PRT helped to refurbish the provincial hospital and establish programs to improve the locals' lifestyle. Smart Food, a program for malnourished children, and Clean Water, a process to provide Afghan families chlorine to kill bacteria and parasites in local water, help reconnect the people with their healthcare system, according to Air Force Staff Sgt. Paul Herrera-Ramirez, a PRT-Zabul aerospace medical technician.
"We have a great conglomerate of the right people to help make the government self-sufficient," said Gamez.
The PRT is a joint effort between military services. The team is comprised of Airmen, Soldiers, Guardsmen and Reservists with specialties ranging from infantrymen to civil affairs. All have a sense of achievement and do a job with a level of importance that they may otherwise never do in their life, according to Veres. PRT-Zabul is only one of two U.S.-led teams. The other PRT is located in Farah.
"They have a chance to rebuild a country, renew a way of life and allow a society to fly out from the ashes of 50-plus years of war," said Veres.
PRT-Zabul has been working with the provincial government since December 2004. Over the years, the team has built upon lesson from the past to help further development in the Zabul province.