News: Airman works to 'win the hearts, minds' of war-torn people
Story by Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- News reports on the war zone are saturated with stories of death and injuries; media outlets detailing fire fights, suicide bombings and improvised explosive device attacks in the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq.
But what of the stories of humanitarian aide - donated school supplies to help advance a child's education, medical supplies to heal an innocent civilian and toys, clothing and blankets to bring a small dose of happiness to someone in need?
One Airman, U.S. Air Force Maj. Carla Lugo, has spent the last three and a half months working as part of a five-person joint Civil Military Operations Center team in Southwest Asia doing just that - ensuring the war-torn men, women and children across the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility know the United States is here to help.
"The motto of civil affairs is 'to win the hearts and minds of the people', so it's important that the locals see that we're not there to harm them, but to help them," said Lugo, deployed from Andersen Air Base, Guam.
The team, which falls under the U.S. Army's 1st Theater Sustainment Command, is responsible for planning, resourcing and coordinating the distribution of humanitarian aide throughout the AOR theaters via U.S. military units.
In order to do this, the team works closely with the host nation government as well as non-government organizations, international organizations and other coalition government representatives, according to Lugo. The team also works hand-in-hand with host nation customs, shipping and receiving ports and base operations to ensure the shipments they receive are prioritized for air and convoy movements and delivered to the intended recipients.
"Each shipment takes a lot of coordination on our end," said Lugo, the sole U.S. Air Force logistics officer in an otherwise U.S. Army CMOC team. "There are a lot of logistics pieces to each movement, so we spend a lot of time in the office working those aspects."
But with each shipment of supplies that arrives at the host nation port, comes long, sometimes labor intensive, hours for the CMOC team, added the Flagstaff, Ariz., native.
"On those days that we have a movement, we have to pick up our vehicle and the MHA equipment that goes along with it and go down to the port where we pick up the 40-foot container [full of donated supplies] and bring it to the yard here to cross load the items into two smaller 20-foot containers for convoy and air transportation," she said. "Once we're finished with that, we then have to transport the 40-foot container back to the port and ship it out. And that's just for one movement. Then we coordinate getting our 20-foot containers, filled with HA, where they need to go downrange."
The major's CMOC teammate, U.S. Army Sgt. Dominic Hauser, 1st TSC Civil Affairs CMOC NCO in charge, said the entire process can be strenuous.
"When we receive a container, it's pretty long hours," he said. "We can average about 16 hours in the sun doing cross loading, working with a lot of host nation and third country nationals ... but Major Lugo toughs it out with the rest of us."
The sergeant said that while there are interservice rivalries between the Army and Air Force, leaving him and his fellow Soldiers slightly apprehensive about having an Airman on the team, that he has enjoyed working with Lugo over the last three and a half months.
"From my experience in working with the Air Force, [Airmen] are typically a little more apprehensive in getting their hands dirty, but Major Lugo's not. She's first and foremost in the mission - not afraid to pick up bags and 'hump em' like the rest of us. She's a smart lady, very dependable and physically fit ... we were pleasantly surprised."
On average, the team coordinates between two to three shipments of 40-foot containers filled with supplies from various non-governmental organizations a week.
"The humanitarian aide we receive consists of everything from medical supplies to books, school supplies, toys, sports equipment, blankets, clothes, crocks, you name it, we get it," said the major. "Some of the supplies we have right now for instance include clothing, school supplies and toys; meanwhile next week we're expecting a shipment of wheelchairs and a few weeks ago we received boxes full of baseball equipment for an Iraqi baseball team. It really varies. It's just a matter of us coordinating with the right people to get these items in the hands of those people who need it."
Hauser said the civil affairs mission is one that will continue to impact the people of Southwest Asia and the United States long after Major Lugo and the CMOC team are gone, which makes coming to work every day more than worth it.
"Ultimately one bullet can affect an entire family," he said. "When you take a life, it extends generations. Through humanitarian aide, we can actually patch up individuals who have taken a bullet and give them things such as wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs or actual medical treatment, which we definitely do, but the civil affairs capacity actually builds upon that and creates a lasting relationship in a positive fashion."
"For instance, if an individual gets shot, 20 years down the road he's going to remember who shot him or have negative feelings, but on that same note, if we can build a school and deliver school supplies, we can educate an entire village of children which not only builds a community, but builds a positive relationship with the United States that will last."