News: RCT-8 spreads goodwill to neighbors, recharges batteries
Story by Lance Cpl. Clayton Vonderahe
GAVMISHI, Afghanistan -- “They deserve the same rights we do,” said Lance Cpl. Jared Beard, a motor transportation operator with Regimental Combat Team 8. Beard was referring to Gavmishi’s residents and the Afghan population as a whole. He was gathering supplies to distribute to the underprivileged population of the small village.
Marines with RCT-8 left the security of Forward Operating Base Delaram II, Afghanistan, and made a short journey to the village to spread goodwill to the neighboring area by distributing toys and candy to children and talk to the village elders March 21.
The Marines, led by Col. Eric Smith and Sgt. Maj. David Jobe, the regiment’s commanding officer and sergeant major, mounted into large tactical vehicles and ventured to the village bordering their FOB. Gavmishi sets itself apart from a majority of the surrounding area because of its fertile riverside location. It is an oasis in an otherwise barren desert.
“Going out there, there was grass growing up and green fields,” Beard said. “It was beautiful.”
Immediately after the Marines left their vehicles, masses of children scurried to them, reaching and grabbing for anything they had to give.
“We made the mistake of showing all our candy right off,” Beard said. “They kind of went crazy because they are not really used to it.”
The lack of hesitation the children displayed was a positive sign. Smith stated 99 percent of Afghans are good people and innocent of acts of violence, therefore they should have nothing to fear from the presence of Marines in their area.
“We had a lot of kids and they weren’t afraid of us, so that is success in itself,” Jobe said. “It means the insurgency probably hasn’t been out there a lot and told them not to come up to us.”
The experience meant as much to the Marines as it did to the children. The items collected for the children were gathered from care packages Marines received from their families and those supporting Marines in Afghanistan.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” Beard said. “My family has been a big help, sending me stuff like (stuffed animals) and candy; it was great. You have your up days and down days in Afghanistan, and doing this clears my mind and makes me happy. It makes me feel like we really are doing good things here.”
After the candy and toys were given out, the children still followed the patrol, playing and laughing with the Marines. The patrol made its way through the dirt streets and met with village elders. Smith and Jobe spoke with the local residents and let them know the Marines are here to help and will continue to be a presence in their area.
“This is great counter insurgency because they know, ‘Hey, we’re here and we’re going to come back; we’re willing to help you,’” Jobe said. “The majority of the Afghan people don’t want violence any more than we do, so they’re willing to tell us there is an (improvised explosive device) over there or that guy doesn’t belong here.”
Visiting with the elders and doing quick health evaluations for residents who are suffering from various ailments was an important part of the mission, but the focus was on the children. With the children being the future of Afghanistan, RCT-8 hopes to plant a seed of good faith for the future.
“The reason we go out and try to do good for the youth is because that’s what we are going to change,” Jobe said. “We’re not going to change a 50-year-old man; we are going to change the youth. When we’re out there, we’re spending time with them.”
As the patrol returned to the vehicles, the children were still at the Marines’ heels trying to get a piece of candy or a pen from them. Some were wearing new sandals, others playing with stuffed animals and eating candy. This was more than they are likely to see for a while, and definitely more than they could expect from the insurgency.
The hope of this mission was that the local population will recognize the “good guys,” but the immediate intent was to brighten the days for some local children.
“When you are over here for a long period of time, sometimes just seeing kids laugh and smile and have something good, it’s enough to recharge your batteries and energize you,” Jobe said. “When I see kids happy it makes me think we are making a difference over here. We’re bringing a little goodwill to them, we’re making them happy.”