ZHARAY DISTRICT, Afghanistan (Army News Service, July 5, 2012) -- The continued presence of Afghan National Army, American Soldiers and Afghan Local Police in the small town of Pankilla, Afghanistan has emboldened civilians to come out of their homes to engage in commerce and community.

"A month ago, you couldn't even go past that corner," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Howard, the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment Commander. "There were no children around. Today, there are kids who walk with us down the street."

It was a small group of Afghan National Army, or ANA, soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 205th Infantry Corps, and U.S. Soldiers from Bravo Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, who protected the entry and exit ways of the small town. Also protecting the citizens of the town were Afghan Local Police, who kept watch in the city center where there are families, local shops and small crop areas.

Located inside Kolk in southern Zharay District, the village of Pankilla is a maze of qalat walls and roads. As the patrol walked through, children and young men emerged. Previously, these areas were occupied by enemy fighters. To the north of the village is an old Mujahadeen fighting position that was once held by the Taliban before Bravo Company fought their way south.

"We've leveled off the top of that hill, which we were shot at from every time, and you can see all of this space," said Howard. "After we reinforce this structure, the walls will be covered with mud to look like an Afghan qalat, so it resonates with the people. This will be the new police checkpoint."

The current police checkpoint is a small qalat with three small rooms.

Near the police station is the partnered U.S. and ANA strong point; inside the men live together.

Now, inside the city of Pankilla, residents can visit a local store and find shelves stocked with candy, food, toys and cold beverage, the availability of those goods, and the confidence to go out and seek them, is relatively new to residents there in recent history.

"A month ago, you wouldn't have seen anyone here," Howard said. "Today the store is open and you can buy whatever you need."