KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - More than 600 children received a surprise Dec. 3 when Soldiers from the Kentucky Army National Guard showed up at their school with more than 50 boxes full of school supplies.
"After visiting three of the local schools, I e-mailed several friends of mine in the Kentucky school system," said Army Sgt. Heather Carrier, a Guard member with the Kentucky Army National Guard. "Not even a day later a personal friend sent me a Facebook message to inform me she would make it this year's National Guard Youth Symposium community project."
Notebooks, pens, tablets, crayons and English textbooks were donated in an effort to provide a better education for the future of Afghan youth. Donations were made by many local businesses and delivered to the sixth annual National Guard Youth Symposium in Louisville, Ky., earlier this year.
"When you visit the schools here you can point out the differences in the students," Carrier said.
"You see a student sitting in the front of the class with a couple of pens and a notebook and then you see the child sitting in the back of the classroom with a sheet or two of loose paper that was borrowed from another student. It just wasn't right in my eyes."
Carrier wasn't the only Soldier who wanted to make a difference and show support for the Afghan education system.
"I hated going to the local schools and seeing the children without the basic school supplies," said Army Sgt. Jerred Stevens. "After my last school visit, I made a phone call to my mom and told her about the youth program here."
Stevens said his mom, Tracy, immediately began to put the word out to schools in her district about starting a donation for the schools in Afghanistan.
"My mom is an elementary school teacher at Brodhead Elementary," Stevens said. "The students in her classroom helped with the supply drive and it took off from there. Before we knew it donations were coming in from students, parents and businesses throughout Rockcastle County, Ky."
Once all the supplies were gathered, the question that lingered on Carrier and Stevens' minds was, "How will we get all these boxes to Afghanistan?" Between the two of them, they had more than 600 boxes waiting to be transported from Kentucky to Afghanistan.
Stevens said the solution proved to be quite easy once he made the right contacts.
"I contacted my training NCO, Staff Sgt. Heath Sailor, in my unit," he said. "Staff Sgt. Sailor told me to have my mom drop the packages off at the Richmond Armory in Richmond, Ky. They were then delivered to the Kentucky Air National Guard base in Louisville, Kentucky."
The packages arrived less than four months later on Thanksgiving Day at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
"When I heard the packages had arrived I was so excited," said Carrier as she laughs about it. "I didn't think it would make it here as fast as it did. I thought we would be handing it off to the next unit for delivery, but I am happy it didn't work out like that."
To the Afghan teachers and students, the joy that the Soldiers brought to them means so much.
"I am so happy for these school supplies and the help from the Soldiers," said Nagahia, a 10th grader at Nasaji Gulbahar Girls School. "This is a great relationship between us and America for now and into the future. It is great the Soldiers care about our education and have come to help my people rebuild my country."
To the Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard, it was priceless to see the children so excited about receiving supplies for schools.
"Seeing them light up when you give them a pack of pencils or notebook just lights up my heart," said Carrier. "They take these items as if you just gave them a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360. They are so grateful and appreciative."