By Katherine Bielawa Stamper
It’s rainy season… in Afghanistan. Rainy season means mud, lots of mud.
Afghanistan, a mountainous nation in south-central Asia, is weary. Bordered by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, this landlocked terrain has seen many a military campaign. From Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to the Soviets to the Taliban to the present American occupation, Afghanistan has experienced a succession of foreign military interventions.
Afghanistan remains besieged, ravaged by civil strife. One need only turn on the radio or pick up a newspaper to learn of yet another suicide bombing at a police station or marketplace. Violence has left its imprint on the collective psyche of this traumatized people. Violence has impeded the rituals of life. Violence has stymied the work of government.
An estimated 70 percent of roads in Afghanistan are unpaved. Mud, ruts and, most tragically, IEDs are facts of life in a country convulsing from political instability. Bagram is not spared its share of mud.
When rain arrives, mud follows in heaps and piles. Mucking and sloshing through is required. Good gear matters. Vermonters know this. Afghanis know this. Does our government know this?
I don’t normally consider the clothing and equipment issued to our servicemen and servicewomen deployed to military installations overseas. I assumed those in uniform received the necessary items to stay warm, dry and safe while pursuing American foreign policy objectives. I learned that is not always the case.
Bagram Air Base, located twenty-five miles from Kabul, is one of the largest U.S. military bases overseas. It’s estimated that over 30,000 people—military and civilian—live and/or work at Bagram. It’s an island of America in eastern Afghanistan.
Bagram houses hangars, service buildings and living quarters. There’s a fifty-bed hospital. The Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center hosts parties and social events for hardworking military personnel.
For those missing the flavors of home, Burger King, Popeyes, Pizza Hut and Subway restaurants populate the base. Coffee shops and a bakery offering fresh, base-baked cookies further compliment the traditional culinary experience of military chow.
A colleague’s son is serving a six-month deployment to Bagram. He works seven days and sleeps in shifts because he must share his bunk with another serviceman.
Before his deployment, we asked what we could send in a care package as a gesture of support. This young soldier’s reply: he asked for mail. In a world of Facebook, Skype, email and instant messaging, he said cards and notes from folks back home were genuinely appreciated. We organized a schedule with staff volunteers sending hand-written letters and cards from Vermont. We update him on news from the Green Mountains and tuck in occasional comic strips. It doesn’t matter that we may not know this young man personally. What matters is that we can support him in a way that’s meaningful to him.
With the rainy season in full swing, we learned from our colleague that the military-issued leather boots were not waterproof. We further learned that waterproofing materials were unavailable for purchase on base.
This seems a bit of an oversight. Imagine sloshing through puddles and mud seven days a week—while serving your country—and never having your feet dry.
We brainstormed. We considered pooling money. We pondered promoting an “adopt a can” campaign at work to purchase a few cases of waterproofing supplies.
Someone suggested we reach out to the business community. We did. A simple email sent to Seattle-based Nikwax, a producer of quality waterproofing product yielded a positive reply—in less than 24 hours. The company agreed to donate to this soldier and his crew.
As the sequestration battle brews, I am reminded that government is but one piece of the puzzle in how we must care for each other. Private and corporate philanthropy must also step in, even if it’s to insure that those on the front lines can be assured dry feet.
Sources: www.uso.org, uspolitics.about.com, www.atlapedia.com, www.nps.edu, www.cia.gov, http://forums.military.com.