Christmas in Afghanistan

 

Written by Coalition Press Information Center

Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan

- Published - Jan. 06, 2005

   

CW5 Gary “Stretch” Wallin tells tales to a young Afghan girl on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004.  The Soldiers of the 211th and Task Force Pirate took time to visit with the children and distributed gifts that were donated from various U.S. organizations in the United States.

U.S. Army Photo

CW5 Gary “Stretch” Wallin tells tales to a young Afghan girl on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004.  The Soldiers of the 211th and Task Force Pirate took time to visit with the children and distributed gifts that were donated from various U.S. organizations in the United States. 

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – More than 200 troops based at Bagram Airfield shared toys, shoes and food in a Christmas Eve cultural exchange with a local village during Operation Goodwill on Friday, December 24.

The 211th Attack Helicopter Battalion, as part of Task Force Pirate, has sponsored the village of Jegdalek in the Parwan province, for the past seven months.  Task Force Pirate leaders estimate they have donated more than 80,000 pounds of shoes, school supplies, food and other humanitarian assistance material to date.

The troops celebrated the Ramadan season with more than 600 citizens of Jegdalek in the month of November, and in turn they wanted to share Christmas with the villagers as a cultural exchange of sorts.  “We asked if we could celebrate Christmas in this village and they welcomed us with open arms,” said Col. B. Shannon Davis, commander, Joint Task Force Wings, and the senior member of Operation Goodwill.  “Their children are here celebrating with us.  We respect their culture and they’re respecting ours, we’re really sharing each other’s culture out here today.”

The troops put on a Christmas program that included Santa Claus, singing songs accompanied by a keyboard and brief explanations of the origins of Christmas and its importance to Americans.  The service members were given similar explanations about Ramadan by the village Mullahs just a month ago, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Layne Pace, safety officer for Task Force Pirate and Salt Lake City native.

In addition to the Christmas program, the troops brought more than 300 prepared bags of toys, stuffed animals, school supplies and hygiene kits to distribute as presents to the children of the village.  Service members also passed out shoes and candy to the children.  “We really appreciate that the Americans came to our village to celebrate their holy days,” said Mullah Hamishagull, Jegdalek’s Islamic leader.

The service members spent five hours with the people of Jegdalek on Christmas Eve, which is the longest amount of time they have been able to remain on the ground on any of the previous visits.  This provided enough time for the villagers to prepare some of their own food for a meal, something the locals have wanted to share with the Soldiers since the relationship began.  The troops shared chicken, rice and bread and with the villagers to complete the cultural exchange.

“The village leaders mentioned that they know that we’re away from our families and our homes during the Christmas holiday and they’re helping us celebrate here in Jegdalek,” said Davis.  “Just being here makes it easier on our Soldiers this holiday season and it promotes the Afghan-American relationship.” 

211th and Task Force Pirate Soldiers traveled to an orphanage near Kabul to deliver Christmas goodies and winter clothing.  

U.S. Army Photo

211th and Task Force Pirate Soldiers traveled to an orphanage near Kabul to deliver Christmas goodies and winter clothing.  

 

            Task Force Pirate’s spirit of giving extended beyond the official holiday festivities.  On the day after Christmas, 211th Soldiers and their colleagues returned to the Allahuddin Orphanage, located just outside of Kabul, to distribute winter clothing and Christmas goodies.

            Pace continues to assist Asedullah, an eleven year old boy from Jegdalek, in receiving life-saving heart surgery here in the United States.  Working with a growing international coalition including Task Force Pirate, Afghan locals, Egyptian medical professionals, and an assortment of individuals and organizations back in the U.S., Pace has arranged for transportation, lodging, surgery and financing for Asedullah’s treatment.  His father, Sirbazkhan, will accompany him.  Asedullah’s mother will remain in country to care for his many sisters and brothers.

            The boy’s journey began on Dec. 24th when he was airlifted from his village to an Egyptian hospital near the airbase.  After two days, he traveled with his father and a prominent Afghan citizen to another hospital in Kabul.  Later this week, the trio will travel to Islamabad, Pakistan.  Once travel requirements are met, Asedullah and his father will catch a flight to Loma Linda, California.  Father and son are expected remain in the Golden State for four to six weeks.

           

211th chaplain Maj. Mark Allison leads the chorus of Coalition forces in the village of Jegdalek. 

U.S. Army Photo

 

211th chaplain Maj. Mark Allison leads the chorus of Coalition forces in the village of Jegdalek. 

Loma Linda University Hospital in California and Gift of Life, Inc., a rotary charity who gives open-heart surgery to children in third world countries, teamed up to provide at-no-cost the surgery and post-operative care for Asedullah.  To date, the Gift of Life has helped over 6,000 children from over 55 countries.  Many other groups and individuals have contributed funds to defray the costs of treatment and trip, including Angels for Afghanistan, a non-profit organization formed by the families of 211th Soldiers here in Utah.

 

Maj. Lorraine Januzelli contributed to this story.

 

 

 

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter hooks up to a conex full of gifts to distribute to Afghan children in the village of Jegdalek on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004.  The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines took time to visit with the children and distributed gifts that were donated from various U.S. organizations in the United States. 

U.S. Army Photo

 

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter hooks up to a conex full of gifts to distribute to Afghan children in the village of Jegdalek on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004.  The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines took time to visit with the children and distributed gifts that were donated from various U.S. organizations in the United States.