Adopt a Village: Airman Provide Humanitarian Relief

By Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson
455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) — An adolescent Afghan girl watched protectively over a group of small children as they looked for winter clothing amidst a pile of boxes containing humanitarian relief supplies. As crowds of people from neighboring villages pressed their way forward, the girl stood her ground and pushed people back from the children.

The supplies were delivered to Jangadam Village on Dec. 31 by 455th Expeditionary Operations Group airmen as part of their "Adopt a Village" program.

A village elder showed Lt. Col. John Bernier, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing flight safety officer, and Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Sydnor, 455th AEW command chief, the village water supply, a small, stagnant pond of brackish water that sits in the center of town. Surrounding the pond were crumbling, mud brick buildings that serve as a reminder of the strife and poverty that can still be found throughout Afghanistan.

On one edge of the village, Staff Sgt. Crystal Whittaker, a 455th EOG security forces specialist, took up a security position to protect airmen who were delivering the supplies. In contrast, just a few feet from Whittaker, village women, covered head to toe in their blue burkas, cowered behind the wreckage of an old, burned-out Soviet military truck, trying to hide from view of the men.

Sheep, cows and chickens ran free around the village. Men serving as self-appointed village security stood nearby with their AK-47s, doing little more than talking and smoking as the crowd of villagers grew.

The mood was tense among the airmen unloading supplies as people began to tear at the boxes. Security forces airmen kept the situation from getting out of hand to ensure the supplies went to the intended recipients.

"It was a bittersweet experience to say the least," Sydnor said. "On the one hand we are proud as Americans to provide assistance to the less fortunate, because that’s part of our nature. But it also saddens us because of the poverty and conditions these fellow human beings live under. To see people so desperate for things that we take for granted is very humbling."

The airmen of the 455th EOG are deployed to Afghanistan on a mission to engage and capture terrorists, and to significantly reduce the chance for future attacks on America and the rest of the world. They are also here to provide an environment of peace and stability and to help the Afghan people grow, prosper and be free.

The Adopt a Village program is aimed at this second mission.

Airmen here collect clothing, school supplies, basic food and household items donated from families, churches and civic organizations back home, and then travel throughout the region to make their deliveries.

Providing this humanitarian aid is not without risk. Airmen must wear body armor and travel in convoys with armored vehicles and heavy guns, as they make their way along muddy narrow roadways surrounded by minefields.

"Naturally, I was a little apprehensive about going (off base), but I was put more at ease when I saw the smiles and received the handshakes and well wishes from the villagers," Sydnor said. "I only wish the media at home placed more emphasis on the great things American military members are doing over here. The people I encountered today were not terrorists but human beings searching for happiness and peace in their lives