Troops give gifts to orphans
Army Col. Jerry Kidrick of the Alaska National Guard hands a piece of candy to a young boy at the Al-Zahraa orphan House in Basrah Iraq on Nov. 30. (Courtesy photo)
Posted 12/10/2010 Updated 12/10/2010
Commentary by Army Col. Jerry Kidrick
Alaska National Guard
12/10/2010 - BASRAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- I experienced a very poignant moment the other day for several reasons.
First, let me explain that I'm a traditional Guardsman in the Alaska National Guard currently on active duty in Iraq. I'm assigned as chief of a Military Transition Team of combat advisors in Basrah Province as part of U.S. Division-South and 1st Infantry Division.
Our duty station is at the Basrah Operations Command (Iraqi Headquarters) and the team has seven Army members, of which six are members of the National Guard from various states.
A poignant moment for me came on Nov. 30 at the Al-Zahraa Orphanage in downtown Basrah, where three team members accompanied Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Mohammad, commander of the Operations Command and several staff members to deliver items to the orphans.
For reasons we are all familiar with, there is a great need in Iraq for many of the basics that we in the United States take for granted.
The security situation in the country is greatly improved and signs of economic recovery are beginning to show. There remains, however, a great need which we on the MiTT team are witness to through our Iraqi partners.
So, our team decided to solicit assistance in collecting donated items in the states and have them shipped to us here in Basrah.
We received an overwhelming and immediate response from a couple of places that our Guard team members have a connection to back home.
Through my connection with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., the Student Veterans Club solicited donations at the university and surrounding community.
The response was immediate, generous, and heartfelt. This was my first poignant moment.
These great veterans who have served and are now attending college were willing and eager to once again serve something larger than themselves, put aside any personal issues they might have, and step up to meet the obvious need of the innocent victims of the ongoing struggle in Iraq.
It struck me that the same spirit of the American service men and women that produced things like the Berlin Candy Drop during the Berlin Airlift, and the outpouring of care for the many orphans of the Korean War exists in National Guard Warriors today.
In fact, the character of the American service member never shines brighter than when they are helping innocent victims of war. I was moved by their efforts.
A varied group of generous folks in Salem, Ore., also contributed to the project. Army Capt. Steve Cooper of the Oregon National Guard made a simple request for a few soccer balls and soon found himself getting a workout with a small hand pump and 80 soccer balls.
Soccer is really the national game in Iraq and the delivery of these items brought huge grins from the children. This was the moment I was moved for the second time, and it was by the reaction of the children.
It was truly a joyful moment. They reacted with pure joy and innocence as if their lot in life was no more or less than anyone else's. The children are well cared for, appreciative and a pleasure to be around.
The smaller children prepared a song with the help of some of the older girls. The children who were a little older wanted to meet us, thank us, practice their English, and generally interact in a very open and friendly way. Again, I was moved by these children.
Another aspect of this project, which has been a pleasure to be a part of, is the reaction of the MiTT team members.
As a group, they have embraced the project and the result has been overwhelmingly positive for team morale. As those who have spent an extended period of their time away from home know, being able to connect in small ways like this can generate the kind of feelings which contribute to the effort to deal with family separations.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my poignant moment has several reasons as hopefully I have explained.
However, probably the most poignant aspect of this project for me is the fact that I'm the proud father of two orphaned children from Cambodia.
Until last Tuesday, it had been nine years since I last walked into an orphanage. I picked up my four-month old son at an orphanage in Phnom Phen. I have firsthand knowledge of the positive impact orphaned children can have on everyone they touch.
As you can tell, my trip with the MiTT team members to the orphanage touched me in many ways, and creates such positive energy for both the giver and receiver, including those back home providing the main effort for this project.
In a country where the gains are small and the need great, I would like to think that a few National Guardsmen backed by caring folks back home brought some brightness into the lives of those on both sides of this humanitarian project.