Chaplain sets sights on winning Afghanistan

Nicolas Camacho holds a little girl at the Mirza Abdul Qader Day Care Center.  The Center is one of the 10 humanitarian projects served under the J-9 Operation Winning Afghanistan program.  The Center, run by a group of Afghan widows, serves about 200 children, and does not receive government funding.    

Letter from CH Camacho/supplies needed         How to obtain free mailing supplies

“This week has been very painful. A week full of high tension moments. We have been under constant direct and indirect attacks in the compounds just miles away from ours. Sadly we lost 6 more soldiers in our area, two of them members of one of our driving teams. Attending their memorial service was a moment full in reflection, thinking, and evaluation of our own commitments to what we are doing around here.”  This is one of Chaplain Nicolas Camacho’s reflections from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he serves as chaplain of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade of the U.S. Army.

Now in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, his primary focus is serving the 54 soldiers of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade stationed all around Afghanistan.  But this is just where his ministry begins.

CH (LTC) Camacho had already served almost ten years as a U.S. Army chaplain when the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks hit.  He immediately volunteered for Operation Enduring Freedom and was sent with the 528th Battalion to the frontiers of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.  Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name for the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U. S. history at nine years and nine months (as of June 2010).

In this new tour of duty with the Civil Affairs brigade, Camacho has been making a difference in the world through his concept of Operation Winning Afghanistan.  Its three main goals are to build cohesion between Afghanis and Coalition forces, enhance the partnership between the people of Afghanistan with U.S. and Coalition troops in charitable efforts, and to provide an opportunity for volunteers to make a difference in the Afghan community.

“We began our first charitable mission by bringing school supplies to a local girls’ school,” Rev. Camacho explained.  “The experience of seeing hundreds of kids embracing with so much affection a simple pencil and bringing unto their faces a smile of gratitude was well recorded in my mind and heart. After that moment I knew and understood that I would not be the same.”

The Operation Winning Afghanistan charitable effort now extends to ten local missions, including five orphanages, two day care centers, the Afghan National Army Hospital, a School for Girls and Boys with more than 3,200 students, the building of a mosque, and the Kabul Children Hospital.

This concept came about after Rev. Camacho attended Counterinsurgency training in March 2010, where he learned, “why as soldiers we must risk our lives to protect the population, relate to them on a one on one basis, build trust through the understanding, awareness and acceptance of their culture.   We learned that we will not be able to win based on the number of Taliban we kill, but rather in our ability to separate insurgents from the center of gravity which draws the people.  This means for us that we must learn to respect and protect the population from violence and from being coerced. It also means that we need to operate in a manner which will win their support.”

From Left to Right:   Turkish CDR for the Turkish Army in Kabul; COL Sediqullah Saberi, Garrison CDR for the Kabul Military Training Center; local resident; Mr. Ludd In Tahir (National Hero in Afghanistan who was kidnapped by the Taliban and escaped together with another journalist); CH (LTC) Nicolas Camacho addressing a group of local elders; SSgt Gutierrez, CERB coordinator; Mr. Sayeed, interpreter.  The group is discussing with the Elders in the community, North of Kabul City, the final stages in the construction of the local Mosque.

Through Operation Winning Afghanistan,  CH Camacho has met different local Afghan leaders, including one who is today a good friend, COL Sediqullah Saberi, Garrison Commander for the Afghan National Army Training Center, Kabul.   Rev. Camacho explains, “Thanks to his support, I have been able to partner with him and use as secure protection for most of our missions the Afghan Force Protection based in his compound. Today every time I go out with some members of my team of volunteers to the area served by COL Sediqullah, I use his Force Protection and continue strengthening our relationship of trust and friendship.”

In reality, it is not part of CH Camacho’s work to coordinate charitable work with the Afghan people, but rather to serve the religious needs of the soldiers and to advise his commander on anything affecting the welfare of his soldiers.“However to serve beyond your own described and identified duties is something that God calls you to do,” he says.  “I highly appreciate the dimension of social justice that we have in The United Methodist Church.  You help others because it is a call that is given birth in your heart and soul. You need to be very conscious of what you are doing, the places you are getting into, the challenges and high risk factors that are involved. There is a high price in Christ our Savior that involves the dimension of serving by and in the grace and compassion of our Lord.”

Left:   TSGT Shannon Kiphart (USAF); CH (LTC) Camacho, SSgt Fezzel (USAF); SGT Quintana (USArmy) at the AFCECO Boys Orphanage, ages 7 to 14. AFCECO is and Afghan non-profit organization based in Kabul, founded by a group of volunteers in 2001 immediately after the fall of the Taliban. In the picture above and behind CH Camacho’s team are a group of kids from the orphanage. The kids were provided with clothing, hygiene and sports items.

As a chaplain, he is very aware of the risk factors – not only to his own life, but to every volunteer involved, both soldier and civilian that have volunteered “to help, to bring charity and kindness, hope and joy, a smile where there was sadness and lack of hope.”   The missions call for travel from thirty minutes to an hour away through hostile territory.  “So when we go out I surrender completely in the merciful presence of God and I pray intensively for each life that offers his/her time to one of my programs. I know what it means to have fear, to be concerned, to think that this could be that day, that moment, to look around and not be able to identify who is who, and where the un-expected could happen. People don’t have an idea of how dangerous is around here and how intense is life in Afghanistan. This is why I always look to bring a sense of security, safety and calmness into the life of each volunteer.”

CH Camacho is thankful for the United Methodist connection, and support of his ministry from The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.  “They have provided spiritual support through their prayers and emailing of supporting materials for our use as chaplains. They also have provided more than 800 free calling cards for soldiers in my brigade which is so essential when in need of calling your family or support group in the USA.   GBHEM was also critical in assisting the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry in changing my status from Leave of Absence to Extension Ministry, which is the correct one as per the United Methodist Discipline.”

About CH Camacho, his chaplain assistant says, “CH (LTC) Camacho is well loved and highly admired in our compound and has earned the respect and admiration of local Afghan leaders with whom he has established an open communication and strong relationship.”

For his second tour in Afghanistan CH (LTC) Camacho will be awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Afghanistan Medal, and the NATO Medal.   His tour of duty will end on October 15, 2010, when he will return to Fort Dix in New Jersey.  Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Rev. Camacho was the pastor of New Journey/Nuevo Jornada United Methodist Church in Reading, PA, in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

For more information on supporting the ministry of CH Camacho: ncamacho7@verizon.netor Nicolas Camacho, USFOR-A  (NKC), ATTN: J9, APO, AE  09356.

March 11, 2010 Nicolas writes:

We at New Kabul Compound are focusing exclusively in the local schools where the need for educational materials is extreme and imperative. I am the administrator for the program.  As I said the need for educational supply and materials is very extreme. Children share their own supplies such as composition books and others. In a good number of schools the sit in the ground because there are no chairs and in others they share a very tiny room. 

Chaplain Nicolas Camacho with three local kids outside the grounds of the Assyab Girls & Boys School. The Assyab School teaches and prepares a number of 1,200 boys and 2,900 girls between the ages of 6 and 17. It is one of the schools sponsored by CH Camacho throughout the J-9 OWA Program with school supplies and computers for the teachers and students. 

Camacho writes on March 12, 2010:

The VCR Program is run all around the country through our chapels. A chaplain is the administrator. In our area here in Kabul we have just two programs being ours the second. Unfortunately the chaplain before me was afraid of going out of the compound and the program came down.  I am working in lifting up the program with the goal of making it a consistent and a solid program here in our compound.

There are more than 300+ schools in Kabul and its districts. All public schools are very poor. Education in Afghanistan was eradicated by the Taliban after they threw out the Russians. Before then the Russians destroyed almost all school buildings and the ones that were in great shape they took and used then for military purposes. When they left what they left behind was complete destruction.

Later came the Taliban which took away all ways of education limiting it only to boys, with the Mullahs taking advantage of teaching their radical interpretation of the Islam.

After concentrating in the beginning in some of the schools my next goal is to adopt the Children’s hospital. This will be within 2 more months. This way I will have both the schools and the children’s hospital.

This is a beautiful opportunity for our churches to really make an impact in the lives of many children. A teacher’s salary is around $40.00 x month and some don’t even earn a salary and do their job for love and commitment sacrificing their lives even though they know that some Taliban’s soldiers can kill them. . . .

Beginning tomorrow I am going to start to visit some schools and make an assessment of what is a primary need in educational materials.

The J9 Charitable Donation Civil Affair program enhances the partnership with the people of Afghanistan while providing a venue for U.S. and Coalition troops to assist others.  Through this program, volunteers interact with local nationals at various locations in the Kabul area, including schools, orphanages, medical centers and Internally Displaced Persons camps. 

It is our goal to focus on aiding the local schools that are not supported by the government and the medical centers and day care centers that are in extremely need of supplies.  The need for basic supplies and educational material is great and our help is needed urgently to provide assistance.

The Afghan students in public schools are not as fortunate as our children.  They could greatly benefit from your support to improve their quality of education and school environment. In addition your support and help will provide a moment of grace and hope to those in need at the hospitals.  

SUPPORT CH CAMACHO’S MINISTRY:  (How to get free mailing supplies to send items to soldiers)

Supplies Needed:

  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • 2½ gallon Ziploc-type bags to hold supplies
  • Pads of paper and composition notebooks
  • Scissors (the type for elementary children)
  • Coloring books (ages 3-7)
  • Towels (white or dark blue)
  • Soap
  • Elmer’s Washable School Glue
  • Art Paper and Drawing Pads
  • Arts and Craft Materials
  • Construction paper
  • Board Erasers
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pens
  • Metric rulers
  • Calculators
  • Backpacks
  • Scotch Tape

If you have any of the above mentioned items that are new or gently used and would like to donate them, please mail to:

Nicolas Camacho/Heather Thompson

USFOR-A  (NKC)

ATTN: J9

APO, AE  09356

On my behalf and the New Kabul Camp (NCK) J9 Charitable Donation Civil Affair thanks you for your support.  And so do the people of Afghanistan.