News: Iowa town showers small Afghan school with supplies
Story by Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – “I don’t deserve to be on the front page of the paper,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Derrick Wygle. “My employer does. I just asked for a couple boxes of school supplies.”
Wygle, a mortarman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat, 34th Infantry Division, is an Applington, Iowa, native who now lives in Waverly.
What Wygle got was nearly 100 boxes of school supplies from the town of Waverly, Iowa, and its surrounding communities.
And he’s still counting.
Toward the end of November, Wygle was talking with his wife Ona, who asked him what he wanted for Christmas. In a way she was asking on behalf of her husband’s stateside employer, the Waverly Health Center, where he works as an emergency room unit coordinator. They were making it a project to send him a good present.
“I’m not much of a Christmas guy - to me it’s more about family than gifts and there’s not much I could use here,” Wygle said. “So I said, ‘Well, have them send me a box or two of school supplies.’”
The supplies were for children at the local school, Quala e’ Najil.
It is one of the closest schools to the tiny Combat Outpost Najil where Wygle and his fellow soldiers from Company A are serving in eastern Afghanistan. In an area that is one of the more dangerous spots in the Laghman province, Najil is a town where the soldiers say they usually feel relatively safe, and children walk up and talk to them from the streets.
From there, Wygle, a seven-year veteran of the Iowa National Guard, said his co-workers at the Waverly Health Center approached the local newspaper and asked for donations.
Wygle said Ona did not tell him about the article in the Bremer County Independent until after it came out and packages started pouring in. He now has the article on a table inside the wooden b-hut in which he and some of the other mortarmen live. Wygle’s story is on the front page, with a photo his wife, a photographer, took of him.
To say the response was overwhelming was almost an understatement, Wygle said.
“It’s a really good thing,” he said. “They said they sent about 20 boxes, 16 of which I’ve already received, and they have 70 or more on the way! They still continue, today, to get stuff in for these kids. Basically in one month’s time, the town of Waverly and its surrounding areas gathered up enough school supplies for all 3,000 kids at the school.”
Wygle, other soldiers from Company A, and Afghan National Army soldiers from 1st Company, 1st Battalion, 201st Regiment, conducted a dismounted patrol to the village of Najil Jan. 3 and delivered the first batch of supplies to the school. The troops were immediately flooded by children, whose teachers herded them back into their classrooms.
At the school, the soldiers took time to interact with the children and toured the school with the principal. About 2,000 boys attend the school in the morning, with another 950 girls attending in the afternoon. The ANA were noticeably happy to line up the children and hand them the supplies.
Wygle said little things make a huge difference to the children, who are very poor. In fact, a good toy for a child in the village is a wire with two wire wheels on it, which they push through the streets.
“We are trying to make sure the kids who don’t have things get them,” he said. “They’re not asking for big things. You give them a pen and it’s like you just gave them their first bicycle.”
The Iowa support rendered boxes full of pens, pencils, snacks, pads and book bags.
Quala e’ Najil school principal Haminullah said he is thankful for the donations from the United States and that they were a good thing because the children are from a country that is poor and war-torn. He said the supplies will help the students get a better education, which will benefit the larger picture.
“Education is the foundation of a strong country,” he said.
U.S. Army Maj. Steven Shannon, the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team civil affairs team chief who works at COP Najil with the Company A soldiers, said he has been to the school and met with Haminullah six or seven times. He said one of his planned projects is to renovate the inside of the school and add classrooms to it as well as provide sidewalks on the streets outside for the safety of the children.
In the meantime, Shannon said these school supplies will make a big difference.
“Sgt. Wygle made an impromptu request to his employer for a couple boxes of school supplies and they promoted it and made it a huge effort from the town of Waverly,” he said. “I think it’s an awesome thing for the town and businesses of Waverly to do. The people really appreciate it, because the standard of living here is pretty low.
“Plus, the word on the work that we do for these people – that word gets out. People communicate here by word of mouth. We’ve put in for six projects for [Company A] and the word is already out. Elders are starting to come to the COP and talk about their concerns, and we’re not going to get anything done here without the elders.”
Shannon said though the majority of the supplies came from Bremer County, there were also some donated from a project known as Operation Care.
Wygle said the response was amazing, but it didn’t completely surprise him.
“It’s kind of an Iowa thing,” he said. “It’s not just my community; it’s all of our communities. They support every single one of our soldiers here. My employer has always supported me through drills, flood duty, schools, deployments and now this. They really, really stepped up.”
Waverly and its surrounding towns have made it clear – they support their soldiers.