Airmen build paper airplanes, relationships

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing
Afghan children ran across a rocky playground here April 30, laughing at a game of tag similar to any playground in the U.S. There were, however, no females on this playground except for a few Airmen who had volunteered from the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing to help with a craft project that morning.

The boys were the children of merchants working at the bazaar at Kandahar Airfield. Every Saturday, as their fathers sell rugs and scarves to the many visitors stationed at the airfield, the boys attend school. Groups can volunteer to host a crafts activity in the morning, and later there is a standing soccer tournament.

The morning's activity was folding and flying paper airplanes. Airman 1st Class Garrett Lee, one of the day's volunteers, sat with a few Afghan boys at a wooden picnic table in the school's yard and showed them how to fold the paper. He said he was struck by the comparison between them and his American cousins. The Afghans asked about American disco and where they could get an iPhone, but when an aircraft rumbled overhead the boys didn't even glance up or seem to care.

"One asked if I was a pilot," laughed Airman Lee, who works in the 451st AEW command post.

The boys wore flowing robes and sandals, a few happily kicked off their shoes to run over the gravel and dirt. The playground was bleached by the sun into shades of beige and gray, which highlighted the colorful graffiti flowers and Pashto letters scrawled onto barricades surrounding the yard.

While the boys chased their airplanes, they seemed oblivious to the Afghan men in uniform who stood above, on a concrete wall, silently watching them from under the Afghan flag. An American Soldier stood in a guard tower, and similarly watched from his side of the compound.

"Those kids are the future," Airman Lee said. "That's our chance to make a good impression, let them know Americans are alright.

Before he left, one boy gave Airman Lee a friendship bracelet.

The younger boys enthusiastically mimed words and stories to Staff Sgt. Kimberly Luna, from the 451st AEW finance office. She organized the volunteer day and said the biggest challenge during the event was the language barrier. Most children, however, spoke remarkably good English.

Some of the boys were as young as eight years old, and one described himself as 15 or 16. He didn't know his exact birthday.

"The older ones seemed to like to talk," Sergeant Luna said of the teenage boys, who sat in the shade and casually spoke to volunteers.

"They're really smart, inquisitive," Airman Lee said.

A small group sat on wooden benches and tables in the yard outside the small schoolhouse.

"What English word has all the vowels?" a boy quizzed.

Airman Lee paused and thought for a moment.

"Education!" the Afghan exclaimed.

He snatched a sheet of paper and wrote the word out. The other boys took the sheet and passed it around. Some stared, fascinated. One boy took the sheet and carefully copied the letters a few times for himself.

Later, they played soccer. The Afghans know it as "football," but the cheering and clapping could have been in any language.