By JONATHAN GIBBS
When one summons a sensory image of what Christmas is supposed to look, smell and sound like, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Naray in Kunar Province may be among the last to come to mind. Hard by the Pakistan border, it is muscled with angular mountains that seem to rise straight up out of the earth as if some malevolent force was trying to punch through the ground.
The surface of the ground is strewn with razor-edged rocks that do a feeble job of holding down the sand and dust whipped into the air by the icy winds that coil through the deep valleys of the Hindu Kush. The weather is either constant rain, interminable snow or stifling dry heat – all of which are accompanied by the wind; always that wicked wind that sucks the moisture out of one’s mouth whenever it isn’t filling it with whatever form of precipitation the Heavens deem to throw its way.
Then there is the human element that surrounds FOB Naray. Peopled by isolated tribes, Kunar Province’s impenetrable terrain is pocked with caves, the caves in which Osama bin Laden was believed to hidden after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Pakistan side – their North-West Frontier Province is called semi-autonomous, a diplomatic word for ‘unfriendly.’ American and western armed forces stationed there call it “Indian Country” and “Enemy Central.” Native Taliban forces mix with foreign Al-Qaeda fighters, while side-shifting mujahadeen militias fill up the rest of the political power vacuum. The businesses of industry there are either heroin or illegal lumber smuggling.
This human stew has made the area a violent playground for all of the competing forces. In 2009, more than 60 percent of all insurgent activity in-country occurred in this small but savage province. Three of the four Medals of Honor given to U.S. forces for actions performed in Afghanistan were awarded to soldiers serving in Kunar Province. As recently as October, nine members of the “Darkhorse” Third Battalion, Fifth Marines stationed there lost their lives in four days of intense fighting.
These marines, the “Darkhorse” battalion will not be having a Christmas like ours in the states. There will be no chestnuts roasting in open fires, eggnog-accompanied caroling around a neighborhood festooned with luminaria and Christmas lights, and shopping trips to overflowing stores or brightly-lit malls. They will be operating on patrols to find insurgent activity or offering medical and infrastructural support to the local population of about 30,000 Afghanis.
As bleak as all this sounds for the Third Battalion Fifth Marines – and it is indeed as bleak as it gets – a local church organization is offering a way to deliver a little bit of Christmas comfort to these 212 men and two women. The South County Church of Christ is putting together Christmas boxes for this battalion and will pay for their shipping. The donations can be dropped off at the Narragansett Times office on Main Street in Wakefield during normal business hours through Dec. 10. The South County Church of Christ will accept donations on Friday, Dec. 10 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. The church is located at 3510 Tower Hill Road, Wakefield.
The list of items needed by these men and women is specific, easy-to-find for the gift-givers, and easy to use and carry by the ones receiving them. They include tuna or chicken packets, beef jerky, Slim Jims, Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Ritz crackers, power and granola bars, dried fruits, peanuts and single serve packs of cookies and crackers, instant coffee and teabags, hot chocolate, single-serve powdered drinks, Powerade, Gatorade and Crystal Light, hard candy and M&Ms. Personal items include baby wipes, lip balm, eye drops and razors. There should be no pressurized cans, nor can any pork products or byproducts be sent to Afghanistan.
The South County Church of Christ was made aware of the need to send some Christmas cheer to the soldiers at FOB Naray because some of their friends are among them. And so, the church, says Evangelist Clarence Campbell, saw an opportunity to apply one of the principles of Jesus Christ.
“Jesus says ‘It is better to give than receive,’” Campbell said recently. “And what better way to fulfill our responsibility as Christians than to practice this principle? We find many blessings when we give and this is why we are here.” The church, he added, gets spiritually richer every time it performs such a service, as it did with two 53-foot trailer of food and supplies to flood victims last spring and with the giveaway of 20 turkey dinners each Thanksgiving.
Those unable to buy and deliver the food and personal care items can make a donation to the cause by sending a check to “Military Appreciation Boxes,” care of the South County Church of Christ. Questions can be directed to the church at 782-4483.