April 30, 2009
Posted: 05:51 PM ET
In October I was down on the USS John Stennis in San Diego and in November I was back in Iraq where I was able to visit some of the Iraqi schools that our troops have helped to refurbish. It was here, about 40 miles outside of Baghdad, that I saw firsthand how caring our troops were towards the Iraqi children.
The children and Iraqi teachers were so grateful to these soldiers for helping them with their school that I wanted to support that good feeling by creating a program that could be supported from home. I knew that I could not continue to make trip after trip to show my support.
But by creating a program that could supply the troops with school supplies, perhaps we could help their morale by giving them something that they could give away that would help the children.
These children did not have much at all. The school was very modest by our standards. But, because of the work of our troops, it was now all fixed up and much better than before. Still, the children had very little in the way of supplies. I saw three children sharing one half of a pencil. They needed some help and so when I returned home I went to my children's school, gathered the kids together for an assembly and showed them pictures and video of my trip to the Iraqi school. I suggested that the whole school bring in donated school supplies to send to the troops so they could take them out to the school I visited and give them to the kids.
We boxed them all up and when all was said and done we shipped 25 boxes of school supplies, Beanie Babies, and soccer balls to the base that I had visited in Balad ,Iraq.
After that, I teamed up with Laura Hillenbrand, author of “Seabusciut: An American Legend.” Laura had a small project of translating Seabusciut into Arabic and I was introduced to her by the major I had met at Balad who had been e mailing back and forth with Laura. The book project was going to be a onetime thing. But a school supply program could be on-going.
So Laura and I founded Operation Iraqi Children in order to provide some suggestions of how people could support our troops here at home by doing exactly what I did at my school. Box those supplies up and send them to the troops to give to the kids they meet. We started a website to show people what to do and I began going on TV to promote the website and tell people about my trips for the troops. It was then, after seeing me talking about the program on TV, that I was approached by folks at the VFW and People to People International. PTPI is run by Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the founder of People to People.
Mary offered to help with Operation Iraqi Children. PTPI is located in Kansas City and once we teamed up with Mary we were able to grow the program into what it is today. Mary helped to provide a warehouse and staff so that we could take the program to another level. We now, not only could encourage people to do what I did at my children's school but now we could take donated supplies, donated money and buy supplies ourselves to make the school kits and get them to the troops. We were incredibly fortunate that Fed Ex teamed up with us and made it possible for us to ship these supplies in an ongoing way, month after month, year after year.
By going to our website www.operationiraqichildren.org, you can see the progress that has been made in the 5 years we have been sending supplies to our troops. To date, we have sent upwards of 300,000 school supply kits that have been distributed to the children of Iraq by our troops.
A very useful tool in reaching the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and certainly useful to the children of this war torn country.
And just recently, as we celebrated our 5th anniversary, American Airlines airlifted the largest amount of OIC supplies to Iraq yet. 25 tons of school supplies and 6,500 pairs of Crocs shoes were just delivered to our troops in Iraq. An incredible mission.
So many people have contributed to making Operation Iraqi Children an effective and lasting program. We have even sent supplies to our troops in Afghanistan, The Philippines and also to the children of Alabama and Louisiana after the devastation of hurricane Katrina. It's a great way to support the troops and by handing these supplies to our soldiers we are helping to keep their morale high by helping them to help children.
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