By Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs
/ Published August 04, 2003
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- For the first time in more than 30 years the people of Afghanistan are beginning to see signs of peace and stability.
Elders and leaders from local villages in the Bagram area of Afghanistan said the U.S. military and coalition partners have enabled them to begin living without the fear that comes from the violence of terrorist forces like the Taliban, al-Qaida and others.
American and coalition forces deployed here after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Their job was to remove al-Qaida and Taliban from power and to eliminate the terrorist base in the country.
“Just about two years ago, on this ground and in the buildings we’re operating out of now, terrorists were plotting and training to kill Americans,” said Col. Bill Busby, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander deployed from the Virginia Air National Guard. “Now, these terrorists are basically trying to survive and hiding from us and coalition military forces.”
However, there is still a need today for forces to remain here.
“Our mission here in Afghanistan is to kill, capture and deny sanctuary to terrorists,” said Busby. “But it is also to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people to help them rebuild their country.”
Instead of waiting for another attack on American soil, Busby said they are taking the fight ‘offensive’ to the terrorists here, in their back yard where they operate.
“By doing this, not only are we safer and more secure back home and around the globe, but the Afghan (people) have a much better chance to rebuild and grow after decades of war and destruction,” he said.
The Afghans said the Taliban and other terrorists had made life miserable for them long before their attacks on America.
“We used to hide underground for days during the ruling of the Taliban and other terrorists,” said Ghulanhaidr, a village elder of Jamadaar here. “But now our children, boys and girls, are attending school for the first time in many years.”
School is not the only benefit the locals are enjoying because of the U.S. and coalition presence.
“We can now walk safely from village to village,” said Fazilkarin, another elder in Jamadaar. “We are growing grapes and other crops again because we can safely rebuild our irrigation.”
Leaders from other villages suggest the Americans have brought with them good fortune, too.
“When the Taliban was raiding here, there was drought, storms, trouble and the ground would not produce for us. They dug up our crops and destroyed our houses,” said the leader of the Qau’eh-ye Musa village. “After you Americans came, rain fell abundantly, good crops started growing, and our people are more healthy.”
Although it can be debated that Americans brought rain with them, they do bring more than munitions.
“We have a program we call ‘Adopt-a-Village’ that is designed to provide much-needed supplies and goods to the locals here,” said Busby. “With this program we receive donations from our hometowns and bases in the mail. We then go out to the villages and distribute them.”
Busby said the donations have been phenomenal, with things such as shoes, boots, school supplies, basic cookware, toys and even candy for children.
Not only does this program offer goods to the locals, but it also provides an opportunity to visit and make good relations with the people living next to operating U.S. forces.
“For the majority of the people here, we are very well received,” said Master Sgt. Russ Hastings, 455th EOG first sergeant deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. “Every two weeks we take about 20 airmen and go out to deliver supplies sent from home to different villages, and every time the hospitality is extraordinary.”
But many Americans are shocked when they see for the first time what the past wars have done to this nation.
“When you get on the ground, it’s obvious that the infrastructure of this nation has been at war a long time,” said Lt. Col. Pat Malackowski, 81st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander deployed from Spangdahlem. “Their buildings and walls, all made of mud, are torn down and (in) disarray. Seeing this, I know it is not the Afghan nationals and civilian populace who support terrorism. They were the first ones being terrorized.”
“We are still very poor, but thanks to the Americans and the coalition, we are at least safe and secure,” said Mohahmmed, an elder of Sortekhel Village.
Nevertheless, the Adopt-a-Village program is designed to soften the blow of their poverty.
“With this program, we show the people of Afghanistan that we aren’t here to make trouble and pillage like many forces who came before us, but we come to help them build and grow their villages and country,” said Busby.
Because of America’s help, the favors have gone both ways.
“The village leaders have told us they would remain vigilant and watch for ‘bad guys’ (who) might want to harm our aircraft and forces,” said Busby.
And the American forces are proud to serve here.
“Morale among our people is sky-high and off the charts,” he said. “Our team wants to be here and they know how important this mission is. I’ve deployed to many other locations and combat zones in my 25-plus years in the military. This is the most important and rewarding job I’ve ever done.”