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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 24, 2008
By David S. Lewis
VOORHEESVILLE In Afghanistan, a country wracked by decades of war and violence, one Voorheesville native is helping an oft-overlooked group of casualties orphaned children.
Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Russ Hoyer, an Army electronics-maintenance specialist, is leading his unit, Company B in garnering assistance for the Tai E Maskan Orphanage, near the Afghani capital of Kabul.
The orphanage houses around 400 boys ranging in age from 6 to 18, many whom have only a mother, or no parents at all, Hoyer told The Enterprise this week in an e-mail interview from Afghanistan.
Hoyer said that there was no way to know whether any of the boys were children of enemy combatants.
“If there are some, we would not know which ones are sons of combatants. Our main focus was checking any maintenance work done to the orphanage building, and distributing the supplies as quickly as possible,” he said. “Since these boys have, and are living, a life with many problems in a third-world country at war, I find it very rewarding to be able to help with the maintenance of the orphanage and by providing supplies, regardless of who the parents are, or were,” said Hoyer.
Company A of Hoyer’s battalion sponsors a girls’ orphanage, located in the same area.
The building itself is in disrepair, due to the poverty of the area, but Hoyer has obtained financial support from the United States government for its renovation, and set up a program through the Voorheesville American Legion by which residents can send supplies to the children of the orphanage.
Renovations to the building will include plumbing, with new pipes, toilets, sinks and showers, and a new electrical wiring system. In addition, the building will receive new windows and paint.
The work on the orphanage has already begun, and Hoyer’s unit has made two trips in order to check on the progress of the work and to deliver badly needed supplies such as clothing and toiletries, as well as rare luxuries like toys, school supplies, and soccer balls.
“The boys are excited and happy to see us U.S. soldiers,” said Hoyer. “They ask us what we bought them. Some of the boys are very outgoing as they speak to us. Others are a little timid.”
The two most-requested items are candy and pens, said Hoyer.
“I’m sure kids from every country like candy,” he said. “I was quite amazed to see the strong desire of every boy to receive pens.”
Hoyer said that his unit will be able to make two or three more trips to the orphanage before it leaves Afghanistan in January, but the soldiers are not able to develop very close relationships with the children for security reasons.
“At times,” he said, “the Kabul area can be dangerous with violence. However, the south near Kandahar and the area in the East near the Pakistan border are both much more dangerous.” So, he concluded, “Our stay at the orphanage we keep to a minimum of time for security reasons.”
So far, the orphanage project has received 27 boxes of items for the boys.
“The hard work and extra time spent preparing everything for delivery is worthwhile and very rewarding,” said Hoyer. “When we see the boys, many who have very little to be happy about, [they] become very happy and excited as they receive all our deliveries.”
Help from home
Hoyer said that he was especially grateful to the Voorheesville American Legion Post 1493 for supporting the orphanage project. The post, of which Hoyer used to be commander, has sent numerous items for the boys, and Hoyer’s mentor and former vice-commander, John Lawrence, is leading the home-front effort to collect items for the children. (Lawrence has written details of the project in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.)
A Navy veteran, Lawrence was one of the post’s former commanders. He brought Hoyer up through the ranks at the American Legion, and served as his primary vice-commander until Hoyer was deployed, when Lawrence took over the demanding position.
“He was the first commander of an American Legion post to be deployed, as far as we can find out,” said Lawrence. Hoyer is very close to him and his wife, Eileen, said Lawrence.
“When he was deployed, my wife and I took him to Rochester,” he said. “That’s how close we are. He is like my second son, and my wife absolutely loves him; she is like his second mother.”
Lawrence spoke highly of Hoyer.
“He’s got a heart of gold, that guy has,” he said. “And those children just broke his heart. He just took it over and said, ‘I will get you help, I will help get you stuff.’
“He’s a leader,” Lawrence continued. “Whenever he does a job, he really does it to the best of his ability.”
Lawrence, who is kept busy collecting and shipping items for the boys in the orphanage, said he thought that helping the children was more than a compassionate gesture: It is important for maintaining a good relationship with the region, as well.
“If you treat the children well, they will remember, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “We have to educate the world that we are not there to beat them to death, or to shoot them; we are there to make it better for them. We are there to help them.
“We are the ones that have the food and the clothing and stuff that they need. Am I wrong?” he asked.
Lawrence expressed strong support for the war effort in Afghanistan, and said that the United States isn’t fighting the Afghanis; it is fighting the terrorists who wish to do America harm.
“It’s not the people that we are fighting, it’s the people who want to ruin us; those are the ones we are fighting. They can’t do what they’ve done to us and get away with it,” he said, but expressed sympathy for the youngest victims of the violence, the children of the orphanage.
Lawrence called them “casualties of war.”
“I don’t care where it is, where there is war, the children of the area are the ones that suffer the most,” he said.
“They are children of people that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their mothers and fathers get killed because they are over there trying to work, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and a lot of t
hem get killed when we blow up the buildings.
“As my wife just said, it doesn’t matter whose children they are, they are children,” he concluded.