PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Hundreds of coats were handed out to people living in the rural village of Charwazi in Paktya province, Afghanistan, April 19.
These were only a few of the roughly 6,000 coats distributed by the Afghan National Army and 1st platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Lethal.
“The coats help because many of the homes only have small wood stoves," said an ANA soldier who was helping to pass out the coats.
A volunteer group known as Rapport Afghanistan donated the coats, which represented another effort by the group to provide needed comfort supplies to people in rural areas of Afghanistan.
Months of collecting finally ended March 7, when over 6,000 coats and 1,500 other clothing items such as gloves and hats were delivered to Forward Operating Base Gardez, which serves as TF Lethal’s base of operations.
Rapport Afghanistan, a Minnesota-based organization, was founded in 2010 by Shawn Mingus, a resident of Chanhassen, Minn., and friend of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boesen of Ankeny, Iowa, the TF Lethal commander.
Earlier that year, when Mingus heard of TF Lethal’s upcoming deployment, he contacted Boesen to ask what kind of support he and his task force needed.
“He contemplated for a while and then thought of warm coats, hats and gloves,” said Mingus in an e-mail interview.
Boesen recalled from his previous deployment to Paktya that many people lived and worked around the mountains without warm clothing.
“When I heard him say that I said, ‘I'm on it!’” said Mingus.
In March of 2010, Rapport Afghanistan was formed in Chanhassen with a Board of Directors consisting of ten people, one of whom is originally from nearby Khowst province, Afghanistan.
The group organized volunteers around the U.S. to collect used coats, hats, gloves and scarves from their communities.
US Bank even pitched in to sponsor coat drives in five major U.S. cities, and organized the shipment of donated items to Minneapolis.
“With the hard effort of hundreds of volunteers and concerned patriots we collected nearly 6,000 coats,” said Mingus.
The group continued collections and accepting donations through the spring and summer of 2010.
“I had large, growing piles of coats sitting in my basement from May until November,” Mingus wrote.
It took 50 volunteers two weekends to package, mark and transfer over 400 boxes into temporary storage, where they waited until a shipping date could be decided.
When Mingus found out where Boesen was going to be stationed, he arranged to have the container delivered directly to his headquarters from Minneapolis, a feat that took over 15 weeks, and plenty of patience.
The original delivery date in January was delayed significantly due to the weather and other complications that frequently impact a mountainous combat zone.
“The final and most serious delay came from the challenging fact that you all operate in a war zone,” wrote Mingus. “I have to remind myself that we sent the container to a place that required ‘special delivery.’”
The 400 boxes were divided evenly and sent to each of TF Lethal’s infantry companies who, with their Afghan National Security Partners, went to local villages to distribute the coats and warm clothes to Afghans throughout the province.
“We usually hand out 40 to 50 coats at a time,” said U.S. Army Pfc. Bryston Dunkeson, an intelligence analyst for Company B, TF Lethal and a native of Farragut, Iowa.
“Rapport Afghanistan is a great example of outstanding, grass-root support from volunteers in America who donated time and money for a coat drive to donate warm clothes for the Afghan people who need them,” said Boesen.
Story by: U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Rasmussen