Major Iverson is Bronze Star recipient

Afghanistan Engineer District-North Commander Col. Christopher Martin presents the Bronze Star, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the NATO Medal to Maj. Erica Iverson. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photos by Mark Rankin)

A Vermillion native has been honored by the United States Army with the Bronze Star and two other medals that recognize her service to the military.

On Sunday evening, Oct. 30, U.S. Army Major Erica Iverson received the Bronze Star Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the NATO Medal for her service while deployed for the past 10 months supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. 

Iverson, the daughter of Dwight Iverson and Julie Stewart of Vermillion, has served in the military for 12 years.

Most recently, she worked as the of Chief of Synchronization and Initiatives Group and the Capacity Building Team and as the executive officer for the Afghanistan Engineer District-North headquartered at Qalaa House in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Iverson helped deliver textbooks to Afghanistan universities last summer.

Nangarhar University received more than 4,500 textbooks, delivered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan Engineering District-North Jalalabad Area Office June 22.

Iverson was instrumental in delivering textbooks to three universities in Afghanistan last June and July. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Government of Afghanistan Ministry of Higher Education coordinated the project to bring the books to the university. The Capacity Development branch of USACE, Afghanistan Engineering Program-North funded the books through the Commander's Emergency Response Program.

"We noticed late in 2010 that many universities were using paper copies of textbooks," said Iverson last July "Overall, 30 years of conflict have severely compromised Afghanistan's University System. The current situation includes the use of photocopies of outdated engineering books, many of which are in Russian."

Established in 1963, Nangarhar University managed to prosper and expanded its education program, but it has not been immune to the country's strife. Prior to the engineers' hefty book delivery, the library was completely bare. Now, 357 boxes of various engineering text and reference books are stacked inside the spacious, sunny room.

"It is very difficult to get textbooks," said Professor Arifullah Mandozai, dean of the university. "If we had to buy these books on our own, we would not be able to buy this many good, quality books in 10 years time."

The project supports the prioritization of the Afghanistan National Developmental Strategy, presented at the Kabul Conference on July 20, 2010, which is to improve higher education. The curricula of Afghanistan's universities are being revised to meet the developmental needs of the country, private sector growth and accreditation, said Iverson.

"No proper education is why our country is in its current state," said Dr. Mohammed Sabar, chancellor of the university, "It is important to get an education, all people are improved with education. If we can improve education, we can improve Afghanistan. We need more, good, educated people to help the community."

The engineering department of Nangarhar University said they are especially thankful for the books.

"Now when I speak with the students, and make a speech, I can explain the U.S. Army gave us this very good opportunity, and they will see you are here to do good things to help us become better," said Mandozai.

Last May, the Plain Talk also published a news story of about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers efforts to provide much needed school supplies, toys and treats to orphans attending the all-boys Ostad Khalil Ullah Khalili Orphans Education Center located in Kabul. Each of the 160 students received a new backpack filled with pens, paper, pencils, notebooks, crayons, erasers, rulers, sharpeners, toys, a puzzle and candy delivered by members of the Afghanistan Engineer District-North.

The humanitarian effort was made possible with state side cash donations from a church in Kentucky, and employees from the AED-N Qalaa House totaling $1,600 and donations of toys, books, puzzles and school supplies.

The Ostad Khalil Ullah Khalili Orphans Education Center was built in 2009 and is funded by the Afghan government. The students take classes in science, computers, reading and arithmetic. But, according to the orphan education center Director, Naqib Jami, finding qualified teachers in Afghanistan is very difficult. "Our teachers only make about [the equivalent] $80 American in salary," said Jami. "So, it is very hard to find people that have the skills to teach science courses for so little money."

Though the school receives a certain amount of supplies at the beginning of the year, the supplies that AED-N provided will help the school's dollars go even further, possibly making it easier to pay for good teachers.

"School supplies are very expensive in the markets," he says. "Anytime something is done for the kids it is welcome. We are very happy the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is here to help; we are very appreciative."

Once the volunteers from AED-N arrived at the school, the excitement from the boys and faculty could hardly be contained. Many students offered the only English they knew "thank you," while others gladly posed for pictures and shook hands with the volunteers who placed a bag on their back.

"I love the blank notebook for drawing and the color crayons, said Safha Hayty, 13 through a translator. " I am very happy with everything we got, it is very useful and we are glad to receive them."

For the AED-N members who participated in the backpack drop, the real reward was the sense of pride and satisfaction that giving much needed supplies to the students and staff provided. Even more special was the operation took place right around Mothers Day, making it a fitting tribute to the volunteers who spent the American Holiday with Afghan children who no longer have parents.

"What a rewarding experience to spend Mothers Day with these orphaned Afghan children and present them with a future," said Iverson in the Plain Talk's story about the presentation of the donated items in a story published last May. "These donated school supplies and toys gave these boys smiles that will ensure a quality of life that every child deserves."

According to a citation issued by the U.S. Army, Iverson received the Bronze Star, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the NATO Medal "for exceptional meritorious service as chief of the capacity building a team and executive officer while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  She also orchestrated a successful internship program between Afghan Engineers and the District. Major Iverson's distinctive accomplishments reflect great credit upon herself, the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Army."

The Plain Talk was unable to contact Iverson before press time as she was in transit to the Washington, DC area.

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