Manas and the orphans of Kyrgyzstan
If you only get your news about the Manas Transit Center, the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, from Manas's own website, you can be forgiven for wondering how the airmen there have enough time for fighting a war, given how much time they spend in orphanages.From the Manas website:Senior Airman James Gomez, an Airman from
the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, gives a girl from Nadjeshda
Orphanage some costume jewelry during a humanitarian assistance visit
June 2, 2010. Transit Center Airmen often work with local charities to
support the greater Bishkek area and communities near the installation.
Outreach efforts include work with orphanages, medical facilities for
children, elderly foundations and Habitat for Humanity. (U.S. Air Force
photo/Staff Sgt. Carolyn Viss)Last week, Manas donated a bus to the At-Bashinskiy school. And in just one eight-day period in April, Manas airmen donated food to the Panfilovskaya Boarding School/Orphanage, the Orto-Suiskaya Boarding School/orphanage, the Kransonrechenskaya Orphanage, the Voenno-antonovskiy Orphanage and the Dmitrievskaya Orphanage. Meanwhile, recent big news like the suspension of refueling at Manas? The new tender for a contract for fuel? The Manas website doesn't say a peep.When I visited Manas in 2007, the commander at the time was up front about the fact that the U.S. had to be aggressive on the PR front, because of the suspicion the base engendered among the people of Kyrgyzstan. Presumably this is even more true today, with evidence emerging of shady dealings around the base. Still: the people of Kyrgyzstan aren't stupid, and know that the base is there for a reason other than to help orphans.And however calculating this might be from a macro level, it should be emphasized that from the point of view of the individual airman taking the time to do this, the intention is genuine. The ones I talked to talked about how they were bothered by how poor Kyrgyzstan was and wanted to help. Many also missed their families and said doing things like this comforted them. But does every one of these events need to be a PR move?
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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