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'America's Battalion' brightens Afghan childrens' day

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/11/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. John E. Lawson Jr.

SUROBI DISTRICT, Afghanistan(April 29, 2004) -- Hundreds of Afghan children, some barefoot, form a single-file line with anxious looks on their faces. Smiles break through the dirt caked to their faces.

"Our American friends came to visit, and they brought gifts," seemed to be what the children were thinking.

Their friends, the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., came bearing school supplies for the children and teachers. This April 29 visit to the village of Jegdalay was part of the battalion's ongoing civil affairs mission in the Surobi District.

The Marines began distributing the "gifts," backpacks containing notebooks, pencils, erasers and pens. The backpacks themselves were brightly colored with the American and Afghanistan flags side-by-side. A dove with an olive branch grasped in its beak flew between the flags, and "Unity for Afghanistan means freedom" was written underneath in Pashtu, the primary language in the area.

"When dealing with kids, it brings out the best in you. They're innocent," said Warrant Officer Thomas Vasquez, civil affairs officer.

Afghanistan has an average literacy rate of 36 percent amongst the entire population, according to the CIA World Factbook.

"Our civil affairs efforts help by enabling them with the opportunity to learn and hopefully become more literate," Vasquez said.

Education is a major concern for the Afghan people, he added. "When I ask them what we can do to help them, they ask for help with their education."

The battalion distributed 192 backpacks, as well as 3 soccer balls and 109 articles of clothing. Two soccer balls, one for the boys and on for the girls, were given to the village teacher, Asudullah, so all the children could enjoy them. The third was given to the police. The clothing was given to the village leadership for distribution to the poorer families in the village.

The backpacks were provided by the Coalition, but the clothing came from a different source. It was collected by the friends and family of a Marine in the battalion. The family took donations and shipped the clothing to the Marines to distribute to the Afghan people.

"We tell the Afghans 'this isn't from the military; it's from the American people, and they want you to have it,'" Vasquez added.

This was only one of the numerous civil affairs missions completed by the battalion. The Jegdalay scene repeated itself twice, three days later, when the Marines visited the villages of Tezin and Ghanz Tezin to distribute civil affairs items. The Marines distributed a total of 367 backpacks and 138 articles of clothing in the two neighboring villages.

On April 24, about 100 of the backpacks, along with about 200 articles of clothing, were distributed to the workers of the Naghlu Dam, the largest dam in Afghanistan.

The battalion has conducted four schoolbag distributions and five clothing distributions as well as six medical and three veterinary affairs operations. They have also conducted six village and nine mosque assessments to determine the need for future civil affairs missions. The battalion arranged for contractors to complete three other projects.

The contracted projects include spreading gravel and painting the Surobi police station, refurbishing the mayor's office and digging a well at the local high school, according to Capt. Benjamin Luciano, commanding officer, Weapons Company.

"It is always a great feeling to help someone who is less fortunate. The Afghan people are good people, who do well for themselves with what they have," said Cpl. Brian Spatz, administrative clerk. "There is no telling how much they can help themselves with what we give them."

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