Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie Carl
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
Pathfinders from Troop E, 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment (Task Force Palehorse), along with air crews from Task Force Lift’s Black Widows, provided the critical link between humanitarians in the U.S. and Afghans in need when they joined forces with the Afghan National Police to distribute supplies to the people of Deh Gholaman in Kandahar Province.
This wasn’t the first time coalition forces have tried to help the farming community, but it is the first time they actually made it into the village.
"We tried to get out here about a month ago," Patrick Pendergest, a member of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) who participated in the mission, said.
Adding, "The ground was too muddy. There aren’t really any defined roads going in, and we got stuck."
The village is only about 10 kilometers from Kandahar Airfield, but ground conditions made it impossible for Pendergest and his team to make it in.
Instead, they coordinated with the Army’s Task Force Thunder to have the goods transported by helicopter.
Task Force Thunder is the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Campbell, Ky.
After two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters deposited the team of pathfinders and OSI representatives outside the village, the aircraft made the brief trip back to Kandahar to pick up two large bags filled with school supplies, shoes, blankets, hygiene items and books.
Meanwhile, the troops on the ground maintained a security perimeter around the landing zone and coordinated with local leaders, including the local commander for the Afghan National Police (ANP).
"We’re not the ones distributing the humanitarian assistance," 1st Lt. John Runkle, the pathfinder platoon leader, said. "We help unload it off the aircraft, but the ANP are the ones who will actually distribute it."
Runkle explained that coalition forces are really just serving as a logistics conduit for the Afghans.
This coordinated effort helps to further legitimize the Afghan government among a group of people who enjoy a peaceful, albeit difficult, existence.
"The area around here is predominantly farmland, and the villagers are typically poor," Pendergest said. "They rely heavily on their crops, and this year was a horrible year for rain, so the crops aren’t going to do so well. This, in turn, means they won’t have too much money."
The villages that depend on farming for their survival are often more susceptible to bribery from the Taliban and insurgent forces.
"The Taliban try to use this as a way to influence them to support their efforts by supplying them with the money they’ll miss from their crops," Pendergest said.
Adding, "Humanitarian aid provides a way for them to make it through the year without having to rely on the Taliban."
All of the humanitarian aid delivered to the village is donated by individuals and companies in the U.S. through non-profit organizations. After the goods are collected, they’re shipped off to Humanitarian Assistance supply yards – one in Kandahar, one at Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
There, the goods are sorted and distributed according to needs. Some humanitarian missions focus on personal needs like clothing and hygiene, while other missions focus on distributing seeds, grains and other food or crop items.