March 6, 2008 —
Army Sgt. Heather Slater shows an Afghan boy at how use crayons and a coloring book Feb. 25 at the Egyptian Hospital near Bagram Airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sr. Airman James Bolinger)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Feb. 29, 2008) – Coalition forces provide necessary public facilities, like schools and health clinics, to develop Afghanistan, but sometimes it isn’t the new building or improved medical care; it’s simply a smile, handshake or friendly greeting that makes a difference in people’s lives.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Joe Gotshall and several members of the 724th Military Police Battalion regularly visit the Egyptian Hospital to meet with Afghan patients and share a few snippets of conversation and sometimes a stuffed animal, or coloring book and crayons.
“We are limited in what we can communicate because of the language difference, but smiles and handing out items the Afghans can use are easily translated from one language to another,” said Gotshall, who has been in Afghanistan since January 2007.
According to the chaplain, he walked into an existing program, in which MPs visit Afghan patients every Sunday.
The Egyptian hospital treats 400 – 500 Afghans every week, some who require an extended stay at the clinic.
The mission is small, with five to 10 military personnel, including Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, said Gotshall. The service members hand out candy, toys, school supplies, personal hygiene items and stuffed animals.
Troopers here have a difficult job, said Lt. Col. Paul Noblin, 724th MP Battalion commander. Military Police and law enforcement officers in general often become cynical because they encounter individuals under emotional duress, in stressful situations or who have violated the law. By taking the opportunity to participate in the Egyptian Hospital visits, Operation Care and other humanitarian assistance activities, service members get a chance to interact with the Afghan people in a positive light, provide humanitarian aid and bring smiles to the faces of several people as a result.
“I have young children at home and when I come in here and see these kids it reminds me of (my children),” said Noblin. “I take pictures of the kids here and send them to my children back home so they can see that kids here are like them.”
Army Sgt. Heather Slater, a corrections officer deployed from the 367th MP Company, Horsham, Pa., attributes the success of the HA drops to her friends and family in the states.
“Everything we take to the hospital comes from the states one box at a time,” said Slater, who attends Castleton State College in Vermont.
“I am a double major in social work and sociology,” she said. “I have always loved helping those who are less fortunate – which, in this case, is an understatement for the people in this country.”
The hospital cares for hundreds of Afghan children, and for many service members it’s the smiles on the faces of the next generation of Afghans that keeps bringing them back to the hospital every week.
“It is the most gratifying feeling in the world to see the smile on the faces of these people who have nothing, yet they are more than satisfied with something as simple as a hand-me-down stuffed animal or a pair of socks,” said Slater, who has been in country for eight months. “I am a sucker for the children especially; I wish I could take them home.”
Leaving a positive and lasting impression of coalition forces on the Afghan people is a primary goal of troops in Afghanistan.
“Thanks to our friends and families at home, we are able to make a continuous effort to change the hearts and minds of the Afghan people,” said Slater.