With stars in their eyes…Operation Iraqi Children set to motion

Story by Spc. Blanka Stratford
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

When the glitz and glamour style of Hollywood combines with the blunt and practical manner of the military, innovative ideas are bound to hit the roof.

And they did.

In the first of many missions to be conducted throughout the country, 13th Corps Support Command Civil Affairs Soldiers distributed school supplies and toys to children inhabiting the village of Albu Hassan, Iraq, March 18.

The supply distribution was part of a larger mission called Operation Iraqi Children, a humanitarian project founded by actor Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13) and author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit: An American Legend). The program will make possible for Americans to donate school supplies and Arabic translations of Seabiscuit to Iraqi children.

Hillenbrand's book is currently in the state of being translated into Arabic. Thus, Operation Iraqi Children is presently focusing on the School Supplies Program, administered by Sinise.

"The School Supplies Program was started after Gary visited one of the schools in Iraq," said Maj. Julianne Doris, schools coordinator for the 13th COSCOM Civil Affairs. "He initially coordinated with the 4th Infantry Division who, upon redeployment, transferred the responsibility to 13th COSCOM Civil Affairs."

Doris, who is in direct contact with both Sinise and Hillenbrand, said that Sinise was deeply disturbed by the critical condition of the schools in Iraq. The school that he originally visited in 2003 had no floors, windows, toilets, or fans to circulate the air. There were three children per one desk, and all three would be using one notebook.

"Gary was so concerned about this issue that he went as far as making an appearance on the Tonight Show and addressing it to the public," said Doris. "He has also sent e-mails to numerous people throughout the United States, encouraging them to forward the e-mails and spread the word. He has been working hard to promote this generous program."

In a public statement made by Sinise, the actor spoke of the impression that Soldiers' hard work in Iraq has made on his own aspiration to contribute to humanitarian aid efforts. He was equally motivated by the interaction between the U.S. Soldiers and the Iraqi children.

"I have seen Iraqi kids climbing on our Soldiers and hugging and kissing them," said Sinise, recounting a time when he accompanied Soldiers to a broken down school they were renovating. "I have seen their smiling faces and their attempts to say 'I love you' in broken English. The folks I saw had hope in their eyes and gratitude in their hearts for what was done for them."

Upon his return home, Sinise put forth his ideas and joined forces with Hillenbrand in 2004. Since then, the 13th COSCOM Civil Affairs team worked diligently to employ those ideas into a large-scale humanitarian project.

The first 24-box shipment of supplies arrived from the school that the actor's children attend. Many more are expected.

"Every time a book or a box of school supplies is delivered by our troops, it will be another small victory for them in helping win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis," said Sinise. "It is a beautiful way to begin a relationship with the future leaders of Iraq. They have been forgotten for so long. Now there is a chance for them."


Operation Iraqi Children set to motion

Operation Iraqi Children set to motion

Operation Iraqi Children set to motion