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Corps of Engineers workers join forces to battle winter for Afghan orphans with help from Galveston

Story by Todd Lyman
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic District - North

KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 8, 2013) – Galveston District, Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have earned a reputation for supporting team mates who deploy to serve in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Recently their reputation gained a boost when they extended support to Afghan citizens as part of “Operation Warmth.”

Operation Warmth is part of an initiative begun years ago by the Volunteer Community Relations committee, a volunteer organization from Camp Eggers in Kabul, located near USACE Transatlantic District-North. TAN, comprised of approximately 500 military and civilian personnel in Kabul and throughout the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, directs the construction of hundreds of projects designed to reinforce the country’s infrastructure after more than 30 years of war. VCR, with many TAN volunteers, gathers sorts and distributes donations from the U.S. to Afghan citizens, especially during the winter months.

TAN’s contribution to the VCR has been labeled “Operation Warmth” by current and former corps employees who made Qalaa House, Kabul their home. When word spread to Galveston District, the wheels were set in motion to demonstrate the generosity and compassion of Texans.

Colleen Chamberlain, Transatlantic Division program manger working at TAN, explained how Galveston District members became energized when they heard about the need.

“Texans are known for their strong hearts, will, and pride. In early December, I asked a few friends in Galveston District to help collect coats for Operation Warmth. I was envisioning a collection of 20-30 coats considering the time of year and the short deadline. Amazingly, the district collected well over 300 coats and more than $350 in cash. Everything really is larger in Texas, including gratitude and kindness.”

“Kevin Kelly, a paralegal with Galveston District, dedicated his time coordinating this event, collecting, packaging, and sending the coats. He hauled 15 large boxes to the Galveston Post Office in December and January. Without his and Sarah Xie-DeSoto’s, a Galveston District structural engineer, desire to help the Afghan women and children, the word of this event would not have been conveyed to all the contributors, wonderful organizations in Galveston and surrounding areas."

Kelly continued, “Galveston District economist Robert Needham coordinated with two churches, Clear Lake Chinese Church and University Baptist Church. They gave six or seven big bags on clothing and over $200 for shipping cost.”

Lisa Johnson, Galveston District administrative assistant, said, “My son, Ryan's, school is R.J. Wollam in Santa Fe, Texas. I went to his school on Dec. 21 to attend his Christmas class party. Upon entering the school I noticed three large tables heaped with jackets. I asked the assistant principal what was going on and he told me that the tables held the lost and found items and that notices were sent out telling parents that the last day to check for jackets was that day.

After Dec. 21st, unclaimed items would be donated to a local non-profit resale shop. That pile was huge! There were 91 jackets total, and I spent the next three days sorting them out by color, washing them (11 loads) and zipping them up. Lots of work but such a good feeling doing it. I explained to my seven-year-old son what I was doing, and he insisted on helping. I know this is something he will remember, and some day when they are learning about the whole ordeal over there, he can say he had his little hand in helping.”

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Texas City also contributed to the herculean effort to help our Afghan neighbors.

TAN’s most recent activities were preceded by work in November, when 30 USACE employees joined forces with the VCR committee to prepare two boxes of donated jackets, socks, hats, gloves and other winter clothes Nov. 5. The donations were delivered to a large orphanage before the holidays.

The VCR team made weekly deliveries using armored vehicles.

“A group of civilian and military employees launched the program a few years ago at the first sign of winter weather and still see the need to carry it on,” said Colleen Shanklin, chairwoman of the Corps of Engineers volunteers here.

Air Force Capt, Ashley Housley, VCR Director, from San Clemente, Calif., thanked the Corps of Engineers employees in November for the contributions as they sorted boxes and said she hopes to join force again in their fight to help Afghan orphans, many of whom lost parents during long wars against insurgent and Soviet forces.

She explained, “We will be donating the items to various organizations in Kabul. We may take them to an orphanage or the ministry of women's affairs.”

All donations are coordinated through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs or the Ministry of Education.

Most of the Corps of Engineers personnel are on temporary assignments from their home districts or bases. Shanklin is from the Jacksonville District in Florida.

Camp Eggers VCR members sorting clothing sent from Galveston District in support of Operation Warmth in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Grant Anderson, TAN)

Camp Eggers VCR members sorting clothing sent from Galveston District in support of Operation Warmth in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Grant Anderson, TAN)