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NATC-A volunteer org helps families of fallen Afghan officers

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric B. Johnson
  • 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron
On July 2nd, the Afghan Air Force lost eight officers to terrorist action as the men were traveling home after a long hard day of work learning English and doing their jobs on Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan. Immediately, this tragedy not only touched the families of the fallen officers, but the lives of their advisors and friends in NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan and the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing.

These eight guys had worked with our Air Advisors daily and now, thanks to a Taliban-claimed bombing, were never going to make it home to their families or back to working with their friends for a brighter future. Feeling the loss personally and professionally, MSgt Eddie Ybarra and I, the leaders of Operation Outreach-Afghanistan and also Air Advisors, instantly felt we needed to lend a hand.

OOA is a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers from NATO/ISAF, U.S. Armed Forces and civilians. As an organization, we're focused on healing hearts and minds by helping impoverished Afghans. We provide supplies to families, schools, hospitals, villages and orphanages in the Kabul area. These supplies are all donations from various organizations and people around the world.

At an OOA meeting after the men were murdered, Ybarra presented what he felt the organization could provide and, as always, the members accepted the challenge. Our volunteers worked tirelessly for weeks to gather non-perishable food, school supplies, toiletries, clothing, and medical supplies for approximately 45 family members of the fallen officers. Each man lost left behind a family of at least five children and a wife, so the OOA provided something for each immediate family member.

On Aug. 14, after several weeks of planning and working through the AAF to contact the families of the fallen, we successfully presented the gifts. Several Air Advisors were on hand to witness the delivery of gifts -- and in many cases, to shed tears for the families' loss. I spoke a few words, hoping to offer comfort and hope, and then we as Air Advisors had some time to meet with the families and share memories of working with their departed loved ones. Some presented pictures of them with their loved ones, while others offered hugs and just spent time and took it all in.

For some, the presentation of help to the families was a sort of closure. For others, the time spent and supplies donated were more examples of how Operation Outreach's joint and coalition volunteers are there for their Afghan counterparts in times of need. The job is never done; we continue to be here to assist with any possible humanitarian effort here in Afghanistan. We know these gifts could never replace what each family member lost on July 2nd.

We felt the loss and miss our friends. We only hope to honor their memory and help their families in moving forward.