Behind the hard news stories of combat missions and war fighting, you’ll find buried perspectives on the international military presence in Afghanistan.These stories don’t always make the headlines. Maybe they’re too positive.
There’s a section of Kandahar Airfield where service members are encouraged to “let loose their inner child” once a week.
It all happens at the Bazaar School — a place that the International Assistance Security Force set up five years ago for the children of Afghan merchants who set up stalls at a nearby bazaar.
When the bazaar opens, troops spend time with the kids while their parents are busy manning the family business.
It’s something like extreme babysitting.
“We’re like the Muppets, but with standard operating procedures,” says Master Sgt. George Prodan of the Romanian Army.
The kids have learned that at 12 noon, if they line up patiently at the school house door, they’ll soon be met by Prodan who hands out fresh snacks and cookies outside — if they wash their hands.
Putting in the time to hang out with local children has a positive knock-on effect.
“In some way I think this puts us in touch with the local population and it gives the kids an opportunity to meet people from different countries,” says Spc. James Gorman, an intelligence analyst.
But winning hearts and minds goes both ways.
“Doing this is a good change of pace for me because I work a 12-hour shift every day, so it’s a good way to get away from the command for a bit,” he says.
Prodan agrees that the school offers something uniquely valuable.
A big part of his job is taking care of morale and recreation at the airfield’s headquarters. He says if something like the Bazaar School existed when the war took off some 12 years ago — “Who knows how things might’ve changed in Kandahar?”
“I like to help the kids because they don’t have many things and they deserve all the things we do for them…and not just because they behave well.”
He adds, “In a lot of ways the boys here remind me of my son. And my wife, who’s a teacher, is happy I’m doing this.”
BI contributor Jonn Lilyea heard about the school from Sgt. Gregory Williams at the U.S. Army’s 3rd ESC (Expeditionary Sustainment Command), which is in Afghanistan right now supplying troops with everything they need — food, ammo, fuel — to complete their missions.
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