OIC co-founder and actor Gary Sinise visits servicemembers
By Sgt Alexandra Hemmerly Brown
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) PAO
LSA ANACONDA, Iraq — Actor and director Gary Sinise visited Anaconda May 22 to meet with servicemembers and to check on the progress of the organization he co-founded, Operation Iraqi Children.
The “Forrest Gump” and “CSI:NY” actor visited wounded servicemembers at the Air Force Theater Hospital and met fans at dining facilities throughout the day.
Sinise, who was on his third trip to Iraq, said he tries to assist the troops in any way he can.
“I’m just trying to help in some way,” he said. “I know that visits from people from back in the States means something to the troops. I think my being here is letting them know that they’re not forgotten and that what they’re doing is important and appreciated.”
Sinise started Operation Iraqi Children in 2004 after visiting Anaconda and having a chance to see the condition of an Iraqi school. He said he wanted to do something for the Soldiers and also the children he saw who were living without basic learning aids.
When he returned home from Iraq in 2004, Sinise enlisted the help of his own children’s school to put together a large donation of school supplies to send to Iraqi children.
“The first shipment was 25 boxes of just stuff,” Sinise said of the non-profit organization’s beginnings.
But he didn’t want to stop there. Sinise received such a positive reaction from the Soldiers who distributed the first installment of supplies, that he started a Web site so others could join in the donating process.
He said the response was overwhelming, and in three years OIC has taken in more than $1 million in supplies and donations.
“As hopeful as we were, we never could have anticipated the outpouring of generosity that we have encountered,” says the organization’s Web site. “From the day that we launched the program, we have been inundated with correspondence from people across the nation who wanted to pitch in.”
Operation Iraqi Children partnered with People to People International, and now sends school supply kits to more than 1,000 schools in Iraq.
“Since February of 2004, we’ve sent about 300,000 school-supply kits,” Sinise said.
The kits consist of supplies such as notebook paper, pencils, folders, rulers and scissors sealed in a Ziploc bag.
The organization’s Web site; www.operationiraqichildren.org, carries detailed instructions on how to construct the kits, donate money, or volunteer at the organization’s headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
Lt. Col. Nancy Putman of Buda, Texas, the deputy of civil affairs for the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), receives all of the Operation Iraqi Children packages in theater and is in charge of distributing them.
“I feel very proud to be able to help in making this contribution to the children of Iraq,” she said. “I am confident that these school supplies make a huge difference in their lives.”
When Putman receives shipments of the kits, she makes sure they get out to the units who often visit Iraqi schools.
She also coordinates the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies such as clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items, toys, blankets and even wheelchairs that are donated by private citizens and organizations.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Mr. Sinise and his staff at Operation Iraqi Children,” Putman said. “They have been extremely generous and enthusiastic about this cause, and are always searching for better ways to bring the school supplies to Iraqi children.”
Putman said Operation Iraqi Children supplies have been instrumental in the civil affairs mission of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
“It has been a great success story and something that is desperately needed all over Iraq,” she said.
Following Sinise’s trip to Iraq, he will begin filming season four of “CSI:NY” this summer. He said he’s lucky to have a job that allows him a few months out of the year to travel and give back to causes he believes in.
“We hope these kids take the supplies and remember that they were given by a U.S. Soldier,” Sinise said.
Actor Gary Sinise (left), receives a patch from Air Force Col. Bat Masterson at the Air Force Theater Hospital here May 22. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, 210th MPAD)