Guardsmen spread goodwill throughout Iraq

By Pfc. Leah R. Burton
28th Public Affairs Detachment

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — With the Iraqi school year starting soon, Soldiers of the 185th Aviation Brigade have chosen to deliver hope and good intentions to the Iraqi children in the form of school supplies.

With the help of the brigade family readiness group and an outpouring of community support, the 185th Avn. Bde. gathered 8,000 backpacks full of notebooks, crayons, coloring books, pencils and pens for distribution to Iraqi children all over the country by the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force among others.

The massive humanitarian effort the unit began when it arrived here in January.

"We made a visit out to Yathrib on a humanitarian mission we'd picked up from a previous Mississippi National Guard unit that'd been here. We dropped off some school supplies that they had," said Lt. Col. Dane Powell, 185th Avn. Bde. executive officer.

On this mission, the Soldiers noticed the lack of basic supplies and felt they had to do more. After delivering the supplies and seeing the Iraqi children's smiling faces, the Soldiers communicated their experience to their FRG, which then initiated Operation Open Hearts, to collect donations of supplies.

The FRG enlisted the sponsorship of various organizations, community groups and churches and has accumulated more than a $.5 million worth of school supplies. They collected and filled the backpacks in assembly line fashion.

"I think it makes the American public feel better. It makes the communities feel like they're involved, and it puts them in touch with the Soldiers. They know they're helping their hometown Soldiers spread goodwill in Iraq," Powell said. They even secured the support of Federal Express, which donated the shipping costs.

"You sit back and look at the numbers, and you really realize what a monumental task they've done getting this many supplies here. Obviously, it makes us proud that Mississippi rallied behind us to get it over here," Powell said.

Once the supplies made it to LSA Anaconda, the 185th Avn. Bde. loaded the pallets onto CH-47 Chinook helicopters and delivered them to various units at Forward Operating Bases all over Iraq. All that don't go to the outlying FOBs, the 185th will distribute to schoolchildren in Balad just prior to the start of the school year.

"I think once the units get them and school is in, within a few days they'll be pushing those supplies out," Powell said.

The 185th Avn. Bde.'s efforts serve to further the relationship between the Iraqi people and the American Soldiers.

"This is a great humanitarian effort to help the kids out. We're more a peacekeeping operation in Iraq than anything else," said Col. Bradly MacNealy, 185th Avn. Bde. commander. "The more connection we can have with the Iraqi children and their parents, the better off America will be and the better off democracy and the future of Iraq will be."

The 185th Avn. Bde. is a national guard unit from Jackson, Miss., working side-by-side with Soldiers from 26 other states, that contributed to the school supply mission.

Editors Note: Pfc. Burton is a member of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment from Fort Lewis, Wash. She is currently deployed to Iraq in support of the 13th Corps Support Command at LSA Anaconda.

 

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(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Sgt. Brandon Adriano, 193rd Aviation Company, guides a pallet of backpacks onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to be delivered to units at Forward Operating Base Speicher. Once there, the units will deliver the school supplies to children in surrounding villages.

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(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Sgt. 1st Class Marshall Harvest, 193rd Aviation Company, 185th Aviation Brigade straps a pallet of backpacks to a forklift to transport it to the airfield.