Wednesday Warfighter: Afghan Children – Patience Required

U.S. Army Spc. Martin Rustvold of Audubon, Iowa, provides pens to Afghan schoolchildren during a foot patrol near Asadabad, Afghanistan.

By Spc. Martin X. Rustvold, Security Forces Team Member, 734th Agribusiness Development Team

I am among the members of the Iowa ADT that has dealt the most with Afghan children during our eight months here. I’m a people person and I’ve dealt with kids all my life. Even in high school, I volunteered to help elementary school kids, and I was part of a small group of Soldiers in charge of the juvenile compound at a detention center in Iraq during my deployment there in 2007-2008.

On this deployment, I always make sure to talk with Afghan children and interact with them during foot patrols and when I’m dismounted on missions. I’ll give them school supplies, and if I have it, extra food. It’s been very rewarding talking with them, and in more ways than one. Just yesterday, as one example, I was talking with some kids while we did a foot patrol down a canal running from Asadabad to Forward Operating Base Wright. One of them said to me, “Boom! Boom!” and pointed over an embankment, where we found a bundle of old mortar canisters.

Those kinds of relationships with local children benefit everyone. They help ensure our safety and the safety of the local people. Beyond actionable intelligence, I like talking to Afghan kids to get their perspective on how they see us. I don’t know how long we’ll be in Afghanistan, but the longer we’re here, the more important it is we have a positive dialogue with the people here who are now kids.

It’s not always easy. When you start talking to a couple kids, the next thing you know, you’re swarmed by 50 kids.  You want to help all of them out, but you can’t carry enough supplies on a dismount to possibly meet the needs of everyone you meet. So you just help the ones you can, and try to be patient with the ones who continue to beg you for pens, candy, money, soft drinks, as well as anything they see you carrying, from sunglasses, to gloves, to your watch, sometimes even your weapon.

You can’t blame the kids for begging. Most of them are desperately poor. Even so, I believe children really are the future of Afghanistan, so if I can help change their perspective on the people of the United States to a positive one, that’s good for everyone.

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