December 19, 2013

Afghanistan Notebook: Providing playgrounds for young Afghans

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Looking for a way to make life a little better for the Afghan children living near Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan?

click image to enlarge

Javed Ahmad, an Afghan native now living in Pakistan, shakes hands with Bravo Company commander Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn after discussing plans by the Maine-based International Childhood Enrichment Program.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Charles Carpenter of Scarborough wants to build them a playground.

Carpenter, an avid photographer who has spent years traveling through out-of-the-way corners of the world, founded the International Childhood Enrichment Program in 2004.

The organization's goal: To provide children in poverty-stricken regions -- specifically Afghanistan and Haiti -- with inexpensive-yet-durable playgrounds at their schools and in other places where such amenities normally would be unheard of.

At $3,000 per project, the organization so far has constructed 15 playgrounds -- all made of metal and built by workers in the recipient communities. Seven of the playgrounds, paid for largely through donations from people throughout Maine, are in and around the Afghan cities of Kabul, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Now, with the Maine Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry based at COP Dand wa Patan, the nonprofit program has its sights set on that area near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Javed Ahmad, an Afghan who is living just across the border in Peshawar, Pakistan, manages the program's Afghan projects.

He visited COP Dand wa Patan last week for the second time to discuss the proposal with Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, commander of the Maine Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry.

"The children of Afghanistan, they have nothing," said Ahmad, 37, who fled his home country during the Russian occupation in the mid-1980s and hopes someday soon to move back. "building a playground, we give them something to enjoy, something good, a break from all the bad things going on around them."

In a recent interview, Carpenter said the playgrounds go only to schools or other sites where they will be made accessible to both boys and girls.

(Often in Afghanistan, boys enjoy rights and privileges that are denied girls, including basic education.)

"Hundreds and hundreds of kids play on them," Carpenter said. "They'll wear the paint off in a few weeks."

Bosse, who's eager to make inroads with Afghan villages throughout Bravo Company's area of operations, said he likes the idea of the playgrounds.

But because they're not part of U.S. government efforts to bring stability and basic infrastructure improvements to the area, Bosse noted, the challenge lies in raising private money to build them.

"If I could," noted Bosse, "I'd build six or seven of them."

Not a bad idea.

For more information and to donate to the International Childhood Enrichment Program, go to www.icepkidsplay.org

Eyes peeled, support team gathers battlefield intelligence

When are orange peels not just orange peels?

When they help a small group of Maine soldiers unravel the forensics behind an insurgent attack on U.S. and Afghan forces.

They're called a Company Intelligence Support Team -- COIST.

Their job: Gather and analyze anything and everything Bravo Company comes across in its vast "battle area" and use it to build an ever-expanding body of knowledge about the Taliban and other insurgent groups that operate in the region.

"There was really no intelligence prior to coming here," said the unit leader, 1st Lt. Eric Cain, who came to Bravo Company from Arkansas. (His wife, 1st Lt. Jasmine Cain is serving with the Guard's 136th Transportation Company at Camp Eggers in Kabul.)

The only U.S. military unit to precede Bravo Company at COP Dand wa Patan was a National Guard company from Georgia, Cain said.

The few months they spent here, he said, was not enough time to get a bead on the enemy's "TTP" -- military speak for techniques, tactics and procedures.

"We were pretty much at a clean slate," Cain said. "Nothing. We had to start fresh."

They've come a long way.

Within 24 hours of every major mission, a member of the COIST meets with the entire unit that went out and sifts through even the tiniest details of what the soldiers witnessed and experienced outside the wire.

That information, along with reams of other data gathered each day by the COIST, is then used to help Bravo Company's leadership plan future missions and better protect their personnel.

"What we came up with is that we've got to make each soldier a sensor," Cain said. "We've got to instill in them the importance of keeping their eyes open when they're on missions."

Which brings us back to the orange peels.

A Bravo Company soldier noticed them on the ground during a sweep of an area where an improvised explosive device attack just had been launched against an Afghan Border Police patrol.

Without going into sensitive detail, the small pile of peels helped the intelligence unit pinpoint the spot from where the attack was launched and the manner in which the insurgents targeted the Afghan Border Police vehicle.

Cain's mantra to the troops: "If you see something that looks like it's out of the normal, it probably is out of the normal. If it looks like it's not supposed to be there, it's probably not supposed to be there."

Other members of the COIST are Staff Sgt. Quentin Chapman of Auburn, Sgt. Frederick Moody of Gorham, Spc. Nate Allen of Portland and Spc. James Cline of Westbrook.

Moody, now on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, spends most of his time accompanying Bravo's three platoons on their increasingly far-flung missions.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

"Nobody had to draw the short straw on that one," Moody said with a grin. "I jumped on that grenade myself." 

From Camp David to Dand Wa Patan -- this Marine gets around

Speaking of Spc. Cline, in his past military life, with the Marine Corps, he was a guard at Camp David during the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Cline, 39, also has worked as a police officer in New Hampshire and holds a degree in accounting.

During his high-profile hitch with the Marines, Cline said, he actually got to know Clinton pretty well.

“He was good guy,” Cline said. “I didn’t necessarily like his politics, but he was a good guy.”

Beyond that, it’s all classified.

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