Local ‘grows up’ in Afghanistan
SILVERTHORNE – About a month after the army sent 21-year-old Kristin Barr to Afghanistan, she treated her first patients in a refugee camp, and it humbled her.”I wish you could have seen what I saw that day – an image that will be forever etched in my mind,” she wrote to her family and friends in an e-mail.Families lived in cars turned on their side. Children walked around without shoes, wearing clothes that looked as though they had been worn for years. Dried mud was caked over their faces, arms and feet. Restrooms consisted of a few sheets in a sandy area. Six to eight children huddled around each woman while they waited for treatment. About 90 to 95 percent of the residents have parasites, lice or both, Barr said.”(A family) took me to their home and gave me the best that they had – tea and flat bread the mother made right in front of me in a little oven and a couple of little, hard candies,” Barr said during an interview Wednesday while she visited her family in Silverthorne for three days. “I started crying.””That night I had a very hard time getting to sleep,” she wrote. “I had so many questions running through my head. I wish there was a way to help. I wish I could take one child and help them. With all that I have, I am still not satisfied? I don’t have that right. I can’t believe I ever whined over where we were going to dinner … that night I ended up crying myself to sleep.”A change of plans – in life and love
Barr joined the army in November – before soldiers began getting deployed – for the medical training and benefits. She met Courtney O’Daniel, her fiancé, in training. He helped her adjust to military life, then he gave her a ring.The couple planned to marry when Barr returned from Afghanistan in April, 2005, but then O’Daniel found out the army is sending him to Iraq in December.”I love him and nothing, not even being a dozen countries away, could tear us apart,” Barr wrote in a May e-mail. “We will be postponing the wedding …”Landing in a foreign countryWhen Barr first arrived in Bagram, Afghanistan, she slept in a large tent with about 50 other females while the sound of planes woke her up every 15 minutes. About a week later, she settled into a metal, two-story building in Kabul, where only three soldiers occupy a room. She works about eight to nine hours, six day a week, treating soldiers and locals for diarrhea, colds, dehydration and other common ailments. She feels lucky, because most people in her compound work 12-hour days in guard towers with heavy body armor.
Keeping spirits highWhile the army cautions its soldiers against speaking negatively against the military, Barr’s positive attitude is genuine. She appreciates the medical knowledge and experience she is gaining.”I’m learning more about myself, and I’m learning what my limits are and learning to be able to adapt and live in that environment and keep a positive outlook,” she said. “I’m with a really good group of people, and that’s helped me the most – and being able to communicate with my family. I don’t know what I would do without them – and all those care packages.”Her mother, Dede Weldon, sends cookies, chocolate, art supplies, books and vitamins a couple times a month.”At first, I was really nervous, but now that she’s able to communicate with us, I’m a little better,” Weldon said. “I can concentrate on my daily day.”The care packages help Barr deal with the stressors – things like commanders cracking down on discipline after a private fired rounds inside the compound; threat levels of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare escalating to the point where all soldiers must wear body armor and carry helmets totaling 35 pounds wherever they go; and dealing with the first death of a soldier after a truck rolled on its way to Kabul.Barr can’t always divulge details about life in Afghanistan, but during her visit, she gave a slide show presentation to her family, showing them images media coverage doesn’t.The human side
“We saw more of the humanitarian side of the country,” Tom Weldon said. “We see a lot of the military presence -the war side of it and the death and the destruction – through the media. But she showed us people’s lives, work, shops, houses, ruins of palaces.””It looks like a city you shouldn’t live in,” Barr said. “All of the buildings have bullet holes from the Taliban.”I’m happy that we are there. We do get to see a difference. Before, women could only drive yellow cars, or they’d be killed, and they had to wear burkas. Now you see many without burkas, and they’re walking the street, not stuck in a house. Children are going to school now because the schools are open. The city looks safe. There are no more executions. The army is patrolling the street. I think we’ve made so many changes already.”And through the experience, Barr has changed too.”She was my little girl, and now she just seems to be more appreciative of the little things that you always try to teach your kids,” Dede Weldon said.”There’s so much to be grateful for here in the United States – the weather, the trees, the grass, the flowers, the people here, the friendliness and the relationships we’re allowed to have – everything,” Barr said.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at email@example.com.
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