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Zabul PRT building a foundation for a better Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Oshawn Jefferson
  • U.S. AFCENT Combat Camera Team
Total-Force Airmen and Soldiers with the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team are hoping to create a foundation Afghans can build upon for a better future.

"When our team arrived we adopted the call sign, Buynyad, which means 'foundation' in Afghanistan's Pashtu language," said Lt. Col. Erik Goepner, Zaburl PRT commander, deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Va. "Our goal is to help the Afghans build a solid foundation that they can build upon to benefit the people of Zabul for years to come."

Approximately 100 Airmen and Soldiers, working with representatives from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Agency of International Development work hand-in-hand with the Zabul Provincial Governor Mohommad Asraf Naseri to developed projects focused on assisting and meeting Afghan citizen's needs throughout 11 Districts in the region.

"Our representatives from the U.S. departments are here for the long-term," said Dr. Jim Helton, U.S. AID field program officer, who retired as a lieutenant colonel after 25 years in the U.S. Air Force. "As PRT Soldiers and Airmen funnel in and out they add to the reconstructive development and sustainability we build as a team. When we share the same vision and are well-intergraded we're able to serve the people of Zabul as one single-minded unit focused on serving the Afghan people here."

Currently the Zabul team has 14 PRT-led projects including reconstructing a bridge, hospital improvements, perimeter wall repairs, school construction and improvement, emergency road repairs, trash services, nursery security upgrades, and digging irrigation wells. These projects, coupled with several other operations led by Afghan government officials, are organized and prioritized for the best benefit to the people here.

"We have helped facilitate project coordination meetings developed by Afghan leadership in the region to improve communication and prioritize the best projects for Afghan citizens," said 1st Lt. Keith Yelk, PRT Zabul engineer, deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. "It allows to better fulfill reconstruction needs in the region and builds credibility with the Afghan citizens and their government to meet their region's expectations."

The PRT also focuses on health and social issues affecting the local community. Projects like Smart Foods, a program for malnourished children; Clean Water, a program that provides Afghan families chlorine to kill bacteria in local water; working with with Zabul Province Women's Affairs, a program that addresses maternal needs; and Village Medical Outreach, a program that helps Afghan doctors address health concerns in local villages, gives servicemembers a chance to help with all aspects of Afghan society.

"Working out here really makes you realize what we take for granted in America," said Tech. Sgt. Eric Carter, PRT Zabul medical technician deployed from Shaw AFB, S.C. "Getting to help people enjoy simple things like clean water, basic healthcare needs and freedom of movement is something I enjoy. We have an opportunity to make a difference out here and I am glad to be a part of it."

For some service-members, projects here offer them unique perspective on Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Usually, when my unit is deployed it's strictly for kinetic purposes only," said Army Staff Sgt. Clarence Washington, PRT Zabul third-squad security forces lead deployed from the Pennsylvania National Guard's 110th Infantry Battalion in Connellsville, Pa. "Our team is getting a chance to help build up Afghanistan and be a part of the projects and missions that benefit the people here in a different way."

Stood up in 2004, the Zabul PRT shows no signs of stopping and is looking to build a brighter future for Afghanistan and its people.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of something unique," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Loar, Zabul PRT information operations NCOIC, deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. "We have a chance to help government officials make real change in the region and this is something I will never forget. I hope we can make a difference and most of all I hope the positive changes we make last."