America Supports You: Iraqi Children Receive Donations
By 1st Lt. Kevin Norton, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 6, 2005 Task Force Baghdad soldiers said they have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by donations Americans have been sending to a program designed to provide school supplies, clothes and toys to Iraqi children.
Iraqi students pose with U.S. soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, for a photo with the school supplies donated through the Iraqi Schools Program. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The "Iraqi Schools Program," founded by Army Maj. Greg Softy in August 2003, is currently being managed by soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. Softy was the squadron operations officer with 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, and has since rotated back to Germany.
Iraqi Schools is a widely successful program that links Americans with an actual neighborhood of Iraqis who need help. The generosity of Americans has allowed the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment -- known as the "Cottonbalers" -- to distribute vital school supplies, medical supplies and clothing to Iraqis in need.
As of May 25, 42,682 packages had been received with 1,013,274 pounds of school supplies, clothing, and toys distributed in the West Rashid area of Baghdad.
The early success of the program even caught the attention of President Bush, who acknowledged the program in a weekly radio address in October 2003: "The response was overwhelming - hundreds of packages were shipped, and a Web site was established to encourage other Americans to contribute," Bush said. The program continues to grow under the operation of Army Maj. Dave Priatko and the men of 3/7 Infantry. The Cottonbalers say they are extremely excited about working with the program. "It's absolutely amazing how much we've been able to distribute," said 1st Lt. Steve Weber of 3/7's B Company. "We've been able to give out school supplies to smiling children on every patrol we conduct."
Priatko, the battalion executive officer, serves as the director of the program and its main point of contact. Priatko; Chaplain (Capt.) Suk Kim, the battalion chaplain; and his assistant, Sgt. Robert Harris, do most of the heavy lifting in terms of running the program. They receive and sort mail, collate the different types of supplies, and repackage them for the line companies to distribute in sector.
Priatko and the chaplain then update the Web site dedicated to publicizing the program. Every month, they send a progress report and post pictures for the people back home to enjoy. The line companies do the rest.
The program has a positive effect on the soldiers who participate.
"My favorite missions are those that are geared specifically to handing stuff out to kids and visiting the schools," said Army Staff Sgt. Ortiz Arroyo, of the battalion's primary security detachment. "There isn't a man out here who doesn't thoroughly enjoy the smiles of the school kids."
Priatko also said he sees the huge boost in morale that comes from taking part in the Iraqi Schools Program. "The experience is equally gratifying for our soldiers when they see the smiles on the faces of each of these children," he said. Unit officials said the Iraqi Schools Program is valuable in terms of building relations with the Iraqi people. This benefit is not lost on the men of 3/7 Infantry.
"The efforts of our friends and families at home are deeply humbling. It's things like this that make it an honor to represent the American people," said 1st Lt. Ryan Tate, a member of the battalion's intelligence section.
(Army 1st Lt. Kevin Norton is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.)