Dust Devils Spawned of Candy Sins

A story inspired by memories dusted off by the Delta Bravo Sierra cartoon of 5/29/2009 and articles in Afghan Lessons Learned.

It takes only a single pencil, a single piece of brass hitting the desert floor, a single piece of candy thrown to the single kid in the middle of the nowhere for hundreds or thousands of kids to pop up out of the desert dust. Kids are cool. Troops like kids. But they're curious and they can easily get out of hand in large numbers while standing still.

Our policy was NEVER EVER give stuff to kids while stationary. Our team clown broke this rule once or twice, re-inforcing need and enforcement of the rule. Now, there are people out there that say we shouldn't give stuff to kids, period, and others that say it shouldn't be thrown from a moving vehicle. I will strongly disagree with both.

Afghani kids are kids, just like any other kids. They will find something to play with and more often than not, it's the only thing plentiful in Afghanistan: rocks. It's amazing the fun they can have with rocks. They stack rocks. They have car rocks. They bounce rocks. They play with rocks in slingshots (and are accurate). They collect rocks.
A rich kid has a block of wood or something to float down the small stream of water in the riverbed road during the one month rainy season. Playstations are unknown to Afghani kids and they make no demands for toys. They don't know about toys and playstations and enjoy the nature around them.

But all kids seem drawn to self-expression and one of the biggest treats they can get are pencils, pens, or markers. They'd stick their finger in the middle of their hands to demonstrate that they wanted something to draw with. They'd line the riverbed roads at the sound of a HumVee. Well, first it would be only one or two.
It'd be one or two until a pencil or piece of candy went out. Then there'd be 3 or 4. Then Three or Four Hundred and then the entire route would be lined with kids, until the goodies ran out and it'd be the normal riverbed activity again. It didn't matter how far in the distance no houses could be seen. In all our time there, they only failed to materialize once. And that was a Taliban hotbed.
Whatever methods they used to pop up out of the dust rivals the science fiction of Star Trek teleporters, particularly since it occurs in numbers that Star Trek never could manage. And because of that, Never, Ever give out a single goodie while stationary. You'll be mobbed in seconds.
And there was only once that it looked like things were going to get bad, with locals flooding the road, but this was happening without the goodies being out yet. And it was the moment of epiphany as things were getting hairy at the front of the convoy. Allowing the convoy to be halted in the midst of a mob was tactically unacceptable. Plowing through the crowd was humanely unacceptable.
The rule normally was a single goodie per kid but the lead vehicle's decision was eased as "the mob parted like the red sea." The lead driver and gunner didn't know why until we returned to base but they were happy to not have to make the ugly decisions on this one. The designated goodie guy had tossed hundreds of pencils to the side of the riverbed road from whence they had flooded and hence they had returned to scavenge as many pencils as they could gather for themselves and their kids. It was indeed a mad dash out of the path of the convoy to the goodies they loved.
With a few simple rules, hard candy and pencils builds rapport and becomes an indicator of enemy presence/danger while providing a warm fuzzy to our troops. One per kid. Never while stationary. The Troops get the warm fuzzy. The kids get to express themselves. Parents are always happy when their kids are happy. They love to see the benefit of their kids and it breeds good will. And in the absence of kids happily lining the roads, you know things are bad.
But in the one instance in which we broke the stationary rule, we were occupying the "front lawn" of an old Afghan that may have played with Moses as a child. it was an alternate road without a blade of grass. We were there for hours and he sat by his front door with his three grandkids. He was just watching the entertainment of the strange Americans that were taking away the huge weapons cache from a neighbor, silently.
And that day, we gave him the pencils to give his kids later, as explained through the interpreter. Kids will be kids and they mobbed their grandfather for those pencils (instead of us). And then came the shocker: In the middle of nowhere, Afghanistan, this ancient old man broke out with English thanking us!
TimeTraveler©2009, TT, all rights reserved.
Authorized for republication in Afghanistan Lessons Learned


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/01/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. I did fail to mention: Navies are more expensive to build (blocks of wood in the stream) than are armies of rocks, even in the basic world of Afghani toys.

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