Lt. Kyle Snook has a West Point pedigree. Snook, along with his father, mother and older brother all graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. Two younger siblings are now studying there. But none of that rich family history and education could likely prepare the young officer for the task of winning Afghan hearts and minds.

In his latest effort, Snook is helping to “beautify” local mosques. In a small village in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province, just north of Forward Operating Base Howz-E-Madad, Snook takes his 1st Platoon out on an early morning mission to identify the local mosque and provide gifts of paint and carpets to its mullah.

The older villagers are wary, but the children swarm the dismounted soldiers as they climb out of their heavily armored vehicles. They ask for pens or goad the soldiers to try shooting their homemade slingshots. Snook finds one of the village elders who takes him to a small, rectangular mud hut that serves as the local mosque. The elder tells snook he wants the mosque expanded — it’s too small and they need water to perform ablutions before praying.

Snook listens patiently — and says those are all things the U.S. Military might consider helping with — but they need to take some baby steps first. Today, what he can offer is a new carpet. Snook signals one of his men to unload the doubled-up carpet from one of the trucks. The elder takes it from the soldier worldlessly and heads into the mosque where another man and several boys help him to unfold it. But when they’ve rolled it out completely — they discover it covers only half of the mosque’s floorspace. The elder tells Snook to look inside.

“Very good,” Snook asks, extending his hand to shake the elder’s. But the man doesn’t take it. He gestures emphatically and tells the interpreter the carpet is too small — they need another one. Snook nods — but doesn’t want to give away too much. He knows he needs to come back here — to make further contacts and hopefully earn the people’s trust so that, ultimately, they will help provide him with information on Taliban activities in the area.

It take time to develop that kind of relationship but Snook believes this is at least a foothold. After being told the soldiers will come back another day — with another carpet — the elder finally shakes Snook’s hand.

A village elder is unsatisfied with his new carpet, a gift from the U.S. military. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

An Afghan boy teases a U.S. soldier with his slingshot. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

Afghan boys ask to see a U.S. soldier's 40mm grenades. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

A small Afghan boy stands next to a large U.S. military armored vehicle. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

U.S. soldiers from 1st Platoon use mine detectors to check the route to another mosque. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

A local lamb takes a peak at the uninvited guests. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

Local men talk to U.S. soldiers. (Photo by Kevin Sites for GlobalPost)

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