America Supports You: NCO, Foundation Spearhead Wheelchair Delivery
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2006 For more than a year, Army Sgt. Amy E. Perkins has been working to bring some relief to the people in Tal Afar, Iraq. This month her hard work will finally pay off.
An Iraqi boy sits in a new wheelchair from the Wheelchair Foundation in the fall of 2005. Army Sgt. Amy Perkins spearheaded a new partnership between the foundation and the U.S. military to ship 280 more wheelchairs to Tal Afar, Iraq, set to arrive this month. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
A rare shipment of 280 wheelchairs for injured Iraqi citizens is due to arrive in the city within a few days, thanks to help from the Wheelchair Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in California. Perkins said she was impressed with the foundation's ability to deliver the wheelchairs so quickly.
"I want to emphasize how little outside help we get here, and how quickly (the) Wheelchair Foundation reacted to our request for assistance," said Perkins, a member of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Tal Afar, with a population of 250,000, is located 30 miles west of Mosul in northern Iraq. In September, the city suffered heavy fighting between insurgents and American troops, but security has since improved, said Perkins.
Coalition forces have been focusing on humanitarian missions in the area recently, she said, but support from outside the military is still hard to come by.
Perkins said she went through a list of 200 nongovernmental organizations and charities asking for help; several wrote back, saying they already had people in northern Iraq.
"After I mentioned the location, darn near every organization responded by saying that they don't do work in Tal Afar, only Mosul," she said. "No one will help these people. It is entirely up to (the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the United States Army to do anything to improve their standard of living."
Finally, an e-mail exchange with Joel Hodge, program director at the Wheelchair Foundation, led to a plan: The foundation would pack a shipment of wheelchairs and transport it to Kuwait, while Perkins would secure military transport for the two 20-foot crates from Kuwait to Tal Afar.
Perkins said Hodge helped take care of many worries.
"He kept me informed the entire time as to the status of our order, and has often added a note to keep my head up," she said. "His correspondence has helped with more than getting wheelchairs."
Hodge was part of a Wheelchair Foundation team that included Gerry Riley, who managed much of the logistics, and Matt Montague, who secured funding for the shipment. "I have been truly impressed by their efficiency, their willingness to help, and the speed at which they work," Perkins said.
"I would donate to the Wheelchair Foundation every year for the rest of my life if for no other reason than that they were there for us when no one else was," she said. "Then they made everything so easy!"
Perkins did much more than put in a request, according to Hodge. Her offer to coordinate the shipment through Iraq was extremely important since that meant the foundation would not have to hire an armed convoy to ensure its protection.
"The option of shipping them in to our military personnel, and then having them handle all that logistics and shipping in from that point was wonderful," Hodge said from his office in Monterrey, Calif. "It cuts down a lot of costs for us, and streamlines things."
Often the foundation receives donations earmarked for particular countries in need. Meeting those requests is difficult at times, Hodge said, but this time everything came together smoothly, thanks to a donation from the Iraqi-American Association of Illinois, which provided funds for a container of wheelchairs to go to an undetermined place in Iraq.
The shipment of 280 wheelchairs arrived in Kuwait and, as of Jan. 31, was going through document revision, soon to be on its way to Tal Afar.
The Wheelchair Foundation, one of the world's largest consumers of wheelchairs, has delivered more than 400,000 wheelchairs around the globe since its foundation in 2000, said Peter Barnes, the foundation's executive director here.
On a daily basis, the foundation oversees the donation of thousands of wheelchairs throughout the world. Still, the group's leadership found it important to tell "how absolutely amazed everybody was that this one sergeant in this one corner of Iraq had made all this happen," Barnes said.
"Not only do the wheelchairs help people who need them ... the deliveries also help to show the Muslim world that Americans are charitable and trying to help," Barnes said. "This is the caliber of person that we have in Iraq doing good work."