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Community Programs in Iraq Reach Out Beyond Operations

By Spc. Blake Kent, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

QAYARAH, Iraq, Nov. 10, 2003 – Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) not only are working to make Iraq secure, but also are putting time and effort into helping towns and villages with their "Operation Helping Hands" and "Adopt a Village" programs.

With "Operation Helping Hands," soldiers donate money to help provide families with food and health care necessities. Maj. Rodie Lamb of Buford, S.C., a chaplain with 1st Brigade, said the help for poor families is especially important now, during Ramadan, when families and friends are coming together for evening celebrations. Each unit collects money and puts it into the district in which it works.

"Down to the unit level, the soldiers get to go out into the community to see where their money is helping," Lamb said. "We've collected several thousand dollars. Our soldiers have been very generous."

Individuals and organizations have joined the soldiers' efforts by donating goods to the "Adopt a Village" program.

"We have people from the States sending boxes with medical supplies, personal care items and school supplies," Lamb said. He called the response of the American people "overwhelming."

"We identified towns and cities that could donate goods for Iraqi villages," said Capt. Charles Atanasio, chaplain, 426th Forward Support Battalion. Atanasio said he also contacted an "Adopt a Platoon" group he had already been involved with, and has been receiving help from that group's members as well.

"We have the donators send pictures of themselves as well as a brief story about themselves, and then we send them a picture of the people they are helping," Atanasio said. Atanasio said packages have been coming in from all over the United States in support of the villages.

"I'm just really glad to be a part of the process and helping reach out to the people here," Atanasio said.

(Army Spc. Blake Kent is assigned to the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

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