One of the most important things we do is volunteer community relations, or VCR, missions. Led by NTM-A chaplains from Camp Eggers, volunteers distribute clothes and toys to places like schools, orphanages and medical centers in Kabul and surrounding areas. During the run-up to the Presidential Elections last year, the security situation in Kabul was the worst it’s been during my tour. Many days, roads were ‘black’, meaning we could only travel on them for absolutely mission-critical activities, and even then, only with the permission of our most senior officers. But even on those days, the VCR missions went on…the Command clearly demonstrated that VCR missions are a vital part of what we’re trying to accomplish here in Afghanistan. And that makes sense: VCR missions provide hope to Afghans that have none, and as the Afghans would say,
The world lives on hope.
In general, VCR missions take place once week. Unfortunately, because of the security and transportation challenges, only a handful of people can go on the actual mission. So the chaplains select randomly from the list of people who help out at the ‘VCR sort’. This first part is truly a sight to behold: Scores of military and civilian volunteers putting order to the massive chaos of items donated by individuals and charities from all over the world. It starts with a human chain, passing hundreds of boxes from the VCR storage area to a nearby open space. The volunteers then sort the boxes into smaller piles, organizing them by type: clothing for infants, boys, girls, men, and women; toys; blankets; jackets; winter shoes; normal shoes; and so on. Then it’s almost like Halloween: A non-stop line of people with bags, stopping at houses, and receiving treats. Except in this case it’s a line of volunteers with bags, stopping at each small pile, and receiving donated items from that station. By the time a volunteer has looped all the way around the sort area, his or her bag is jam-packed with a complete mix of donated goods…one family’s worth of stuff. A quick stop to tie off the bag and pick up another, then it’s back for another round. The whole thing happens VERY quickly and with a very little formal organization…almost like a bunch of ants taking on a task that’s WAY too big as individuals but easy as a swarm. Which is really the whole idea of the International Community’s work in Afghanistan…
Bottom line: VCR missions change lives…both the volunteer’s and the recipient’s.
* USAF photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, from Defense Imagery