SHINDAND, Afghanistan - From a boy’s school courtyard, one could see hundreds of young eyes peering out what had once been glass windows. Some were gaping holes, others had shards of remaining glass sticking out from the frame. Each old, splintered door in the school led to a classroom of about 40-50 boys who sat shoulder to shoulder on dusty floors.
Insurgents destroyed the school when the Taliban were in charge of the village that lies outside Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, according to the head mullah from the Afghan National Army Special Operation Command’s 2nd Special Operations Brigade.
The 2nd SOB mullahs, religious cultural advisers, along with commandos, conducted their first Afghan RCA-led mission May 14 to bring school supplies to that boy’s school and a nearby girl’s school.
Hundreds of donated school supplies, shoes and backpacks were hand-delivered to the students that morning.
Many students did not have book bags and had to carry books back and forth to school in a plastic bag or by hand. Other basic items, such as paper and pencils were also in short supply.
A teacher’s son who had walked past the group of ANA Soldiers was handed a pair of shoes after they saw cuts and dried blood on his feet and shoes from over wear.
The lead mullah, who has been an ANA RCA for the past nine years, said that it is his duty and purpose to help these children, as well as his Soldiers.
“I was very happy, and even proud that we were able to give them some help and support to my friends here,” he said in regards to the faculty and students at the school.
The mullah stated that after decades of violence and war, the Afghan people are in great need. Schools do not have a water supply and some are missing dry wall in parts of the building. The girl’s school has desks that fit up to three small girls and chairs, but the chalk boards are old and difficult to write on with the bits of chalk that remain.
He also said that while security is a very important mission for the ANA, education for the children of Afghanistan is also important, they go together.
“By going out into the villages, it lets the people know that the Army is paying attention to education and we care about them,” he said.
“We like the people to know that the commandos are there to serve the people and confirm their security as well,” he continued. “We saw today that the people are confident in the commandos and appreciate the hard work they are doing.”
Chaplain (Maj.) John Smith, chaplain for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan has been working with the mullahs all over Afghanistan for six months and has been a chaplain for nine years, almost three of them deployed.
Smith has worked side-by-side the mullahs at various events and many humanitarian aid missions, including this one.
After seeing the mullah lead a mission on his own for the first time, Smith believes the 2nd SOB’s religious support teams are ready to conduct humanitarian aid missions without assistance from coalition forces.
“They’ve progressed a significant amount,” Smith said and explained how before, the mullahs did not even know their counterparts across the battlefield, which limits their ability to learn from each other.
“They took the lead on it, from start to finish,” Smith said in regards to the mission at the schools. “They were able to sit down with the principal, other elders and leaders, and developing a strategy to go into the two schools to ensure that they were giving the kids the items that they needed most.”
“I have no doubt that they are able to do this sort of mission on their own,” Smith said. “The next step is helping them understand how to get items through their own supplies.”
Through friendship and a common goal of wanting to help the Afghan people, though, Smith said his team is more than willing to help in the future if it is requested.
“You could just tell over the first month we were here how closely we were working together and how that trust relationship was beginning to build,” Smith said about starting to work with the Afghans six months prior.
“They call me friend, I call them friend,” Smith continued. “Friendship in the Afghan culture is something that is even deeper than being a brother.”
“As long as we’re here, we’re going to make sure that they’re set up for success,” Smith said.
The mullah also found the day’s mission successful but is looking forward to being able to help both schools and reach out to more people in the near future through Afghan channels.
“I hope that in the future, through help from our government’s department of education or other agencies, we will be able to provide them at least a carpet for them to sit on,” the mullah said.
“As a religious cultural advisor here, as special forces commando here and as an Afghan here, we have to go out to better our children’s lives and the lives of our local population.”