Service members mentor local children
October 14, 2009
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Joint Base Balad, Iraq, hosted 77 children, ages six through 18, and 21 adults from some of the local communities for its first Iraqi Kids' Day Oct. 10, in the H-6 housing area.
Iraqi Kids' Day, in conjunction with the Kids of Iraq program, lasted from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and featured educational activities, sports and an American-style lunch.
Air Force Master Sgt. Donald S. Peters, first sergeant for the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron out of Dune Field, Fla., said the event took roughly three weeks of preparation and planning.
"(The goal was) to assert a positive image of the United States military with the local community and show them we are their friends and we are people too," said Peters, a Tallahassee, Fla., native. "We are here to help them, and I think they understood that today."
More than 100 volunteers found out about the event through word of mouth; kids' day was never advertised, said Peters.
"We tried to accommodate everybody," he said. "Some of them could only do a half day, some of them did a whole day.
Future plans for similar events are being discussed, said Peters.
Sgt. 1st Class Diana L. Southard, headquarters platoon sergeant for the 23rd Ordnance Company out of Grafenwoehr, Germany, said her platoon started an outreach project called Operation Creative Learning.
"(The idea) was to gather art supplies so that the kids would have something to do, a little bit more than just basic school supplies," said Southard, a Medford, Ore., native.
She said her platoon had no outlet to distribute the supplies to the kids.
"The Kids of Iraq day became a great opportunity for us to donate our supplies and actually interact with the kids without going off the (contingency operating location)," said Southard.
Each child who participated took home a gift bag containing school supplies and toys.
Sgt. Matthew F. Carpenter, a chaplain assistant for the 90th Sustainment Brigade out of Little Rock, Ark., mentored two Iraqi boys at the event.
"At first the language barrier was kind of difficult," said Carpenter, a Portales, N.M., native. "But as the day wore on, we just found ways to communicate, with our hands, to point, or to find somebody that spoke their language."
Carpenter said he volunteered for the event because he loves children and he wanted to learn more about the culture in the area. He said the most memorable moment was when the younger boy he was mentoring kissed him on the cheek to say goodbye.
Peters said the event was also for the service members to learn more about the local communities.
"A lot of the (service members) that come here do not have an opportunity to interact with the communities locally because they do not go outside the base fence line," said Peters. "This gave them an opportunity to be able to see the positive things we are doing and the mission that they are doing."