Bringing smiles to Afghanistan children's faces wasn't covered in mobilization training and isn't listed on most Afghanistan trainer mentor's "to-do" lists. But when one First Army Division East member started thinking about the children in his area, the idea took root and was enthusiastically supported by other members of his team.
While deployed as a trainer mentor in Afghanistan, Capt. Chad Daniels, 1-335th Infantry Battalion, 205th Infantry Brigade First Army Division East, wanted to reach out to the children in his area of operation, Pole-Charki, Afghanistan. He and fellow trainer mentors from the Division East team hatched an idea to partner enthusiastic volunteers in the Unites States with local school children. The idea was for the American volunteers to go on toy drives to collect toys and school supplies that would be taken by First Army Division East Soldiers to Afghanistan to be distributed to the Afghan children. In the end, they gathered and distributed more than 400 toys to children in Pole-Charki, Afghanistan.
"Many of us have family and friends back home who want to help in some way and this was the best opportunity," said Daniels. "We wanted to include the Afghan National Army (ANA) as well, so we worked with the religious and cultural affairs officer with the Kandak Batallion. We also made great relationships with Soldiers from the Romanian and Jordanian Army, so we asked them if they wanted to help as well. It was truly a coalition effort."
"The mission was the brain child of Capt. Chad Daniels," said Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Reese, 1-409th, 4th Cavalry Brigade. "Basically, we solicited the charity of our friends and family and they responded in true American fashion. Additionally, Capt. Daniels extended the invitation to help to our coalition partners, which put an Afghan face to the mission. Everyone helped with consolidating supplies and distribution."
"Participating in this thing made me happy," said Jordanian Air-Traffic Controller Maj. Khaldoun Ali Bani Melhem. "This project was excellent for the children and Soldiers and supporting families also. No pen can describe the feelings of that day."
"It felt pretty good to volunteer to help the Afghani children," agreed, Sgt. 1st Class Alex Almeida, 1-307th Inf. Bn. 174th Inf. Bde.
"This is my first time doing something like this and it feels very fulfilling and rewarding," said Almeida. "I do volunteer work in my community but I've never done anything overseas. It only takes one person to make a change!"
Major Ciprian Balica, an intelligence officer with the 341st Inf, Romanian Army also enjoyed the day, stating he could see his own children in the happy faces of the Afghan children as they received the toys and school supplies.
"It felt real supportive to be able to bring a moment of happiness and a smile on those little kids as they live in a dangerous environment," said Balica. "Since I have two toddlers myself, I saw the same joy as my kids would have had when they received something."
While the Soldiers thoroughly enjoyed themselves throughout the entire process, the Afghan children started off with a little apprehension.
"They were a bit reluctant at first, considering the image of a bunch of grown-ups in combat uniforms with side arms on," said Balica. "But, the curiosity of seeing what was inside the school supplies bag overcame the initial fear and they started to laugh, talk loudly, things normal for a little child."
"The children were very thankful. They were noticeably shy at first, but soon opened up and the smiles came," agreed Daniels.
The Division East trainer mentor teams are primarily tasked with providing Afghani Soldiers security training.
First Army Division East, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md., mobilizes, trains, validates, deploys and demobilizes Reserve Component troops. The division demobilized almost 27,000 service members in support of overseas contingency operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, at three mobilization training centers across the eastern United States in 2011.