By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SHARAN, Afghanistan, April 26, 2011 - "Safe haven" took on new meaning yesterday as hundreds of Afghans gathered to open an orphanage here in Paktika province's capital.
Speaking through an interpreter, Paktika Gov. Mohibullah Samim said the U.S. engineers involved in the project contributed not only funding, but also expertise, through the orphanage's construction.
During his keynote speech, the governor spoke to the boys who will live in the orphanage.
"Today you are a student, [and] tomorrow you will serve Afghanistan," he said.
Afghanistan has experienced great improvement over the last 10 years, Samim said, noting that the boys at the Sharan orphanage and millions of other children across Afghanistan now have the opportunity to go to school.
"A hundred thousand students are going to university or private colleges in Afghanistan right now," Samim said. "More than 350 people from Paktika are among them."
The governor said Afghanistan's progress also is visible in the number of now-paved roads and the ability of the nation's army and police forces to work with and protect the people.
"The young generation should not be hopeless," he said. "We are moving Afghanistan from backward to forward, and the people from adversity to fortune."
The orphanage is a Commander's Emergency Relief Program project managed by the Oregon Army National Guard's 1249th Engineer Battalion, known as Task Force Gridley, part of the 101st Airborne Division-centered Combined Joint Task Force 101, responsible for the 14 provinces of Regional Command East. The battalion's higher headquarters is the Texas Army National Guard's 176th Engineer Brigade, deployed as Task Force Hammer.
Both engineer organizations work alongside Task Force Currahee, which is responsible for Paktika province and is built around the division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Army Lt. Col. Kevin Dial, commander of the 1249th Engineers, told the crowd the orphanage opening was an accomplishment for the governor of Paktika, the village's residents and the entire Sharana district.
"Their hard work and commitment to improving the future for local children is inspiring," Dial said. "Thank you for allowing us to be partners in this facility and a small part of your success."
Army Lt. Col. Jim Cline, 176th Engineer Brigade's officer responsible for design, surveying and civil-military operations, also addressed the audience. He said the orphanage represents a landmark commitment from the Afghan government to the people of Paktika.
"The children who live and learn here, in a safe environment, will look forward to a secure future for them and Afghanistan," Cline said. "It is our hope and prayer that the children served by this orphanage will grow to be leaders of the future."
After the ceremony, Cline told American Forces Press Service that since his brigade arrived in September, the orphanage has progressed from foundation to completion.
Projects that include an education component, such as the orphanage, are in line with the U.S. and NATO "long-game" strategy for Afghanistan, Cline said. That strategy, he explained, involves solving illiteracy and breaking the country's cycle of poverty.
A local contractor did the orphanage construction work, Cline said, and the $380,000 project serves as an example of the sustainable projects U.S. forces seek to emphasize here. It's a basic, wood-heated structure that includes a kitchen, electrical power and plumbing.
"You try to match the construction to what people are used to," Cline said. "The technology has to be sustainable by the people who build it." Funding for CERP projects is scaling back, he added, but a number of other short-term, quick-benefit, low-cost efforts are under way.
Army Capt. Bryan Babcock, civil affairs team chief for Task Force Gridley, said the orphanage's size made it a focal point for the engineers' efforts in Paktika.
"We kind of run the whole spectrum, but most of our [projects] tend to be a little smaller -- things that can get done in 45 days or less," Babcock said. The task force tries to hire all local labor for projects, he added, which keeps costs down and provides economic benefits in the communities.
A vocational small-business-management and agricultural college is one ongoing project the task force supports to build a sustainable economic base in the province, Babcock noted.
"A lot of these business graduates are going to get first crack at a whole series of smaller projects," he said. "These are projects that are very small in scope, typically very simple –- a small dam, 10 meters across. It's a great way for someone to polish their technique."
Cline summed up the significance of the orphanage opening in the overall push for progress in Paktika.
"It had all the elements: local buy-in, support of the political leadership, sustained by multiple [U.S. military] units coming through. ... It's what right looks like," he said.
NATO International Security Assistance Force