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Soldier Conducts Toy Drive for Iraqi Children

By Cpl. Todd Pruden, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 28, 2003 – Being in a hospital can be miserable and frightening for children. It can be difficult to bring joy to children in these places. But, with the help of a soldier in Iraq and generous Americans in the United States, smiles were abundant at a children's hospital in Baghdad Oct. 19.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Paul Holton, an interrogator with the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, a Utah Army National Guard unit from Salt Lake City, has spearheaded a toy drive to brighten the lives of children in Baghdad. Armed with a busload of toys and his warm demeanor, he visited as many hospital rooms as he could, distributing toys, checking on the children's progress, and talking to their mothers.

"I am trying to do something for the Iraqi children," Holton said. "It's rewarding to perhaps change an attitude, change a perspective of a new generation of Iraqis and how they might feel about us and the rest of the world."

Dr. Quasem Al-Taey, director of the Central Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdad, the hospital Holton visited, said the toys seem to lift the children's spirits.

"Happiness matters for the children," said Al-Taey. "It gives them the power to fight diseases."

Holton said the toy drive started when he asked friends to send things for Iraqi civilians. But that evolved into something more. He said what really kicked things off was seeing a girl crying at one of the coalition checkpoints, looking for her mother.

He rushed back to his office and grabbed some toys that had been sent to him and gave them to her to console her.

"Just from the joy I saw in her face and the smile and the twinkle in her eye, I knew I needed to do this on a larger scale," Holton said.

He then asked his friends to send toys, but that was not enough. "I asked people to send more toys so I could do this in hospitals, orphanages, schools, and neighborhoods around Iraq," Holton said.

Holton decided to use the Internet to solicit more toys. He has a Web site where he posts his personal journal of experiences in Iraq. When he posted his request for toys, the response was overwhelming.

"My Web site gets between 6,000 and 7,000 hits per day," he said. "It's definitely not my writing style or my interesting journal that's drawing in most of the people," Holton added.

The site details what types of toys to send and where to send them, and also includes testimonials by Holton and photos of the distribution process.

Since posting the toy drive on his Web site, Holton said, he has received more than 700 boxes of toys from people around the world.

(Army Cpl. Todd Pruden is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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