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Volunteering to make a difference

By CJIATF-435 Public Affairs , Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435

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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (January 10, 2013) — Every person in the US military is a volunteer. They willingly accept the possibility of being deployed to foreign countries, in harm’s way most times, away from their families and friends, to serve their country and help those in need.

For many, this is enough. No further charity is needed from these men and women beyond raising their right hand and swearing loyalty to the death to their nation and its people. But for others, it’s not.

Once deployed to Afghanistan, members of the 320th Tactical Psychological Operations Company felt being in Afghanistan wasn’t enough–they had more they could give and do. They joined together with local volunteer groups to help even more.

“As soon as we hit the ground, we sought different avenues to help the Afghans outside of our regular duties,” said Maj. Katherine Kennedy, commander of the 320th TPO Co. “We have nine months here; we aren’t worried about sleep. We want to help this country in any way we can.”

One of the avenues they found was working with Operation Pencil and Operation Care. These organizations gather school supplies, toys, hygiene items, winter clothes and blankets to donate to local children. The 320th, along with other Soldiers and Airmen from around Bagram Airfield and Camp Sabalu-Harrison, joined together in Operation Pencil and Operation Care to pack 1,200 back-packs for Afghan children. Though it may seem that the contents are basic, Kennedy knows the impact of simple necessities is huge.

“For some, it might just be another bag from America. For others, it might be the only pencils and notebooks they have in the house,” she explained. “Think back to your childhood when someone did something nice for you; how did that affect you? Touching 1,200 kids, their siblings, parents and extended family members; if just one of those kids allows our act of kindness to touch his or her heart, think of the impact we could have through the rest of their life.”

While the long-term affect might not be seen by these volunteers, the immediate impact is something that leaves a long-lasting impression on those who deliver the bags.

“To see a smile on a young child’s face when you give them a toy, or the thank you in the eyes of an adult when you provide them with something that will keep their families warm in the winter time, is a feeling that cannot be matched,” said 1st Lt. Molly Hope, a human resources officer with the 19th Criminal Investigation Division Battalion and officer-in-charge of Operation Pencil.

The troops who participate in volunteer organizations do their part in their off-time, which while deployed, is very precious.

“We have an amazing group of volunteers, who despite being in a deployed environment, want to spend the little free time that they have giving back to the community,” explained Hope. “What a great representation of the giving spirit of the American Soldier.”

For the back-pack project, about 20 volunteers from all over Bagram Airfield participated. The amount of people who wanted to help was reason enough for Kennedy to get excited and considered the day a success.

“Did you see how many people were there? Not only was it a blast meeting people, pumping music, but we took all of the stuff people back home donated, and in three hours, packed 1,200 back-packs. That is amazing,” Kennedy said.

The ability to come out, meet new people and do something for the Afghan children doesn’t just impact the recipient’s of the back-packs, but the troops who do the work as well.

“The mission I was deployed for involves no interaction with the local population,” explained Hope. “…so to be involved with volunteer organizations like Operation Pencil really makes me feel like I have a purpose here. It makes me feel like I am having a direct impact on Afghan lives.”

Walking around the event that day, it was easy to see that the chance to make an impact that they otherwise might not have made was something the troops took pride in.

“I could hear the troops making comments as they would walk past me, ‘my kid is going to get spoiled, I’m making sure their bag is the best,’” boasted Kennedy. “You could just sense, that while we were all exhausted at the end, how proud we were of getting those filled and ready for the kids they are meant for.”

The energy and spirit of the day kept everyone running full-throttle, to the point where they seemed to forget about their own needs for a little while and just focused on the task at hand.

“I didn’t realize how thirsty I was until my first sergeant brought me something to drink,” reflected Kennedy. “The energy was great; it was one of those days that will make a great memory.”

The back-packs will go to the Afghan National Army to be distributed to schools throughout the Parwan Province.

Lending a helping hand to Afghanistan’s next generation helps put Afghanistan’s future into Afghan hands.