Now that we had a solution, it was time to implement an action plan. The next day, my teammates and G-Company, 186 BSB combined forces and loaded a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) with the boxes packed full of school supplies. Before loading them, we stacked them in the parking lot by type of item contained in the
postal flat rate boxes. Then I divided the inventory in half. We formed an assembly line and half of the boxes were loaded on to the truck and the remainder was placed back into the metal conex. The boxes were then covered with a tarp and parked at the Motor Pool in preparation for tomorrow’s mission.
In the morning the convoy commander set
up a sand table diagram (without the sand) and we walked through today’s mission. He wanted to be sure everyone knew their security position and we discussed possible contingencies and egress strategies. We weren’t taking any chances even though this appeared to be a safe village.
Everyone got loaded into their vehicles and we met
up with our ANA counterparts. I was pleasantly surprised to see most of them on time, although one third of them were still running late. The ANA surgeon was all smiles and took charge of his men. He lined them up in a row, took roll call, and then we started discussing the security parameters. They seemed a bit uneasy since they visited
a different village and didn’t have a chance to recon this village. After a few minutes of discussion and describing our security plan in detail, they agreed with it and it was time to execute this mission.
Our armored convoy rumbled through the village and as planned, the vehicles established security at various over watch points. Omid, our ETT leader, and I went inside the school and met the principal. As part of COIN philosophy, we wanted to give the principal the opportunity to explain
the best method of distribution. By using this process, it gives ownership to the principal for the idea. Often we may not agree with the Afghan idea, but we go along with it anyhow. Such was the case today too. He directed the boxes be stacked outside in the courtyard area and then the teachers would bring one classroom at a time to receive the items. He also insisted that
no American soldiers distribute the items to the female students, except for the female US soldiers. It was also permissible for the ANA soldiers to hand them the items. I had hoped to go inside the school for security reasons and then we could limit the number of people grabbing for items in the open boxes. I was especially concerned about the boys who were gathering outside the school complex and perching on top of the concrete walls. Nonetheless, we off-loaded the items and ANA and female soldiers set up their distribution line.
Initially it was a very systematic and organized process. The teacher would bring one classroom of students at a time and they were given a notebook, pens, and pencils. Most of the teachers carried a small wooden switch and wasn’t afraid to use it to maintain order. The children were elated to get the supplies and even happier when they got a Beanie Baby. While this was going on, I went inside a 5th grade classroom to talk with the students. They were studying basic arithmetic. The black chalkboard the female teacher was using was in pretty bad shape. Notice in the picture how it’s deteriorating and the slate or whatever the composition of it is, is falling apart. Even though I was only permitted in one classroom, this was representative of the other classroom environments.
Outside, my teammates along with the ANA were rapidly handing out the supply items. Now instead of one classroom at a time, they were bringing 3 classrooms at a time. When the children saw the free items being handed out, they ran to get into line. The boys who were previously sitting on the walls were jumping down and like vultures, they would make their way into the stash of supplies and grab a handful and run off. The ANA soldiers were helpless to keep them all back and we asked them not to hurt the students either. On previous occasions I have witnessed them remove their steel cleaning rods from their AK-47s and used this as a method of crowd control. This is not a prudent way for the ANA to enhance their image among the local populace.
Among the crowd I recognized a familiar face and he saw me too. It was one of the boys I had met at the shooting range. He ran over too me and in his best English said hello. One of the ANA soldiers was trying to move him back from the other students. Despite being one of the ornery boys jumping over the wall, I wanted to give him a special gift of remembrance. So I got a notebook, pen, pencils, and a Beanie Baby for him. Through one of the interpreters, I explained about keeping my promise to see him again. He was very grateful and I asked him not to jump over the wall again. He ran off with his booty and about 10 minutes later, he jumped over the wall again and tried to snatch some more school supplies. I guess some things never change.
As the supplies dwindled, so did the fervor of the children crowding around to get supplies. The boys from outside were jumping over the wall in throngs and we were losing control of the crowd and the supplies. The ANA started to give out the teacher
supplies until I could convince the principal to take them inside and secure them. Due to the ravaging boys, we ran out of notebooks and were quickly handing out pens and pencils to the remaining 25-30 students. It didn’t help the situation when someone tossed a handful of pencils into the air because the students were pushing and shoving to grab these items.
The female soldiers put the remaining boxes on their heads and we handed out the remaining leftovers to some grabby hands. One would think by their reaction, we were giving away hundred dollar bills. Our ETT leader made the call to leave the area and mount up on the trucks. It was time to go. Outside there were several hundred boys pestering us for pens and money. Somehow the ANA managed to hide a few boxes of school supply items in their vehicle and created even more chaos by handing them out to the boys. But the distraction allowed us to get back inside our vehicles and within minutes our convoy was inching its way through the crowd of students. We returned back to camp without incident.
By my estimates, we handed out over 600 notebooks, 2000 pencils, and 1000 pens to the students. In addition, the Beanie Babies were a big hit and several hundred of them were given out resulting in big smiles on the children’s faces. I had a great time and today, we won “the hearts and minds” of these students. Before I left, I talked to the principal and explained the importance of education. I said, “I really believe in education and these children are tomorrow’s leaders.” He shook my hand, thanked me for the donations, and agreed with my statement.