Troops in Afghanistan call home, ask for support for 'Operation Outreach'

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 23, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Staff Sgt. Danny Purnell, an operations officer for the 48th Brigade of the Georgia National Guard, recently sent a request to his civilian employer.

Purnell, who works for Geico Insurance company in Macon, Ga., needed blankets. They weren't for him; he needed them to keep some Afghan local citizens warm during the brutal winter months.

"I made some calls, sent a few emails, and a couple of weeks later the blankets started pouring in," Purnell recalled.

The blankets were used to support "Operation Outreach," a volunteer effort by a group of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan to support humanitarian causes in the country.

More blankets are needed, however.

"Our goal was 5,000 blankets," said Capt. Anna Talerico, a physician's assistant with the 48th. "We've reached right around 2,000."

In spite of its name, Operation Outreach is not officially sanctioned by the military. All efforts on behalf of the organization occur outside of duty hours.

"It's 100 percent voluntary," Col. Felicia French, the 48th Brigade surgeon, insists. "Nobody is forcing (soldiers) to do this, of course. We all have our own military jobs."

Since 2006, the organization has been run by troops deployed to Camp Phoenix, near Kabul. When one unit goes home, another group of soldiers picks up the torch.

So it was last March, when about two dozen soldiers from the 48th Brigade took charge of the operation. They have delivered humanitarian aid to Afghan villages around Kabul and sent one Afghan child to Florida for a medical operation.

For the troops who volunteer for Operation Outreach, their efforts are a natural extension of the work they’re doing anyway.

"The mission here is to win hearts and minds, and I think if there were more Operation Outreaches in this country we'd be adding to that mission in a significant way," Capt. Talerico said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Mail blankets to: Operation Outreach, Camp Phoenix, APO AE 09032.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Read more Afghanistan coverage at our Checkpoint Kabul blog.

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