Veterans Group Helps Troops By Helping Locals

To mark Veterans Day, host Rachel Martin talks with Chris Clary, the newest member of Spirit of America, a group of veterans who provide humanitarian aid to locals in foreign countries as a way to help U.S. troops deployed overseas.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a time to honor all those who have served in America's armed forces. To mark the occasion, we'd like to bring you the story of one group of recent veterans helping those still in uniform and deployed overseas. Here is the newest member.

CHRIS CLARY: My name is Chris Clary.

MARTIN: Chris Clary is a native Oklahoman who served two tours in Afghanistan with the Army Special Forces. Now, he's about to make his third trip to the country.

CLARY: This trip will be different for a lot of reasons. One of those is that I won't be carrying a gun.

MARTIN: Clary is returning to Afghanistan as a civilian member of Spirit of America. It's a group of veterans who deliver economic aid to locals in more than a dozen countries - aid requested specifically by American troops.

CLARY: One of the examples would be sewing machines that we provided to women in Helmand Province - where a lot of these women wanted to provide for their families, but they didn't necessarily have a means to; a lot of them are widowed from the war. And so these sewing machines were brought in so that they could provide economically for their family, and not have to rely on the community as much. Another area would be the radio call-in show. And so what we did is, we provided the equipment necessary for a local government to be contacted by the people around them - again, with the idea of improving security, improving the life of the Afghans, and allowing the U.S. troops to do their job more efficiently.

MARTIN: Spirit of America is a not-for-profit as well as a non-governmental agency, but unlike many other groups, it is not neutral. That is the language that the organization uses. Your group does take a side. What are the implications of that? What does that mean?

CLARY: Well, what that means is that, like some other aid organizations, we don't give aid to the children or the little girl that's wanting to go to school as well as the Taliban or the extremist member that would prevent her from going to school - because that's what neutrality means. It means that you don't pick a side. And Spirit of America says that we don't necessarily believe that. Now, it's important to distinguish by saying not neutral that we're also not political. So we're not taking a side on if the troops should be there or not. We're saying if the troops are there, we will support them in their mission.

MARTIN: But Chris, a lot of people who have served a couple of deployments in special forces in Afghanistan, when their time is up, they're ready to come back home and not think about Afghanistan, not think about war for a while. You are going back - a little unusual.

CLARY: It is, it is. And I would say that there's a couple of driving forces. One is that I truly believe in the mission that the guys are doing. I'm not saying it's right to be in Afghanistan; I'm not taking a side on the strategy, But what I'm saying is, if they're asked to be there, then I want to be there helping them.

MARTIN: Chris Clary - he served two deployments with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He's going back to Afghanistan with an organization called Spirit of America, to provide humanitarian assistance. Chris, thanks so much for talking with us.

CLARY: Thank you for having me.

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