In 2003, Sgt. First Class Jay Smith and his Army Special Forces team were based in Orgun-e, Afghanistan and were taking regular rocket fire from al Qaeda fighters. But Sgt. Smith and his men were armed with an effective counterweapon—gifts of school supplies and sports gear for children, and clothing, shoes and blankets for nearby families, all provided by American donors.
After receiving these items, the grateful villagers reciprocated by forming a night-watch patrol to protect our soldiers. Good relations with locals helped save American lives. I've witnessed this success on the front lines, aided by support from home, repeated many times since Sgt. Smith.
Accordingly, when President Barack Obama presented his plan for Afghanistan earlier this month he left out one critical element: the American people. Our initiative, resourcefulness and goodwill are incredibly powerful. In fact, the tangible support of the American people can make the difference between success and failure in Afghanistan.
Our troops in Afghanistan are engaged in counterinsurgency, a type of war that depends on winning over the local people. Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (which supports ongoing military operations and helps shape military forces for future conflicts), has said that, "One way we create the necessary credibility among the people and dissuade them from supporting our enemies is to show them hope of a better future." This is where the American people can play an indispensable role.
For the past six years, Spirit of America, the group I head, has supported our troops' humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. With donations from American citizens and businesses, we have provided sewing machines, medical supplies, tools, shoes, blankets, toys and more—all at the request of our troops for the benefit of local people.
Other organizations have also given Americans a chance to help the troops. Operation International Children, Soldiers' Angels, and Operation Gratitude, to name a few, have provided a link between the troops on the battlefield and Americans at home.
Read the rest of this great piece. Jim Hake is also the author of the book 101 Ways to Help the Cause in Afghanistan.