Soldier connects Iraqi and U.S. schoolchildren
October 27, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq - Seeing a disparity in the quantity and quality of school supplies in many Iraqi primary schools, one U.S. Soldier decided to do something about it.
Staff Sgt. Jared Wiegand, a Fort Wayne, Ind. native with 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was home last March on leave during his deployment to Kirkuk province, Iraq and decided to visit J.E. Ober Elementary School in Garrett, Ind., where his sister-in-law teaches.
After spending roughly an hour speaking with the children and showing them photos of Iraq, Wiegand mentioned how Iraqi children were less fortunate and did not have the same opportunities to achieve the same levels of education as children in the U.S. In response, Mrs. Alecia Pfefferkorn created a competition at the school to gather school supplies such as pencils, notebooks and markers, for the Iraqi children.
Following the competition, the school supplies were sent with the assistance of the local Garrett, Ind. American Legion chapter to Wiegand.
Wiegand said his scout platoon waited until after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the start of the school year to begin and then distributed the supplies Oct. 18 to the Baghara Elementary School in Hawijah, Iraq.
According to Capt. Scott Akerley, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 8th Cav Regt., it wasn't just U.S. Soldiers who participated in the school delivery. The Hawijah Emergency Services Unit was on hand for the occasion as well.
"The ESU has always gone out of its way to support [our] missions inside the city of Hawijah," Akerley said. "We wanted to thank them for their continued support by having them assist in the school supply distribution, which will not only serve to improve our relationship with the ESU but also bolster their position within the community."
For Wiegand, the delivery of school supplies goes beyond relationship building; it means the future of Iraq.
"Iraq will succeed based on the success of the Iraqi children, they are the future of Iraq," Wiegand said. "Their memories won't include memories of a dictator and personal achievements limited to your family name and tribal affiliation."
Wiegand said it's critical to the long-term success of the country for the children to receive an education and improve themselves.
"This school supply delivery was just a very small attempt to help steer them in the right direction and provide them some tools they will need to get there," he said.
And as far as the Hawijah ESU, Wiegand says they have always assisted his unit whenever they've asked for anything.
"We wanted to give them an opportunity to positively impact the children of Baghara, while at the same time build respect and trust in the local community."
For Abu Naji, the Baghara village mukhtar or leader, visits to the village are a welcome sight, especially when combined with Iraqi forces.
"The people of Baghara like it when U.S. and Iraqi forces come to their village," Abu said. "These children will remember this as a good day and they will remember you [U.S. forces] and the Iraqi Police made it possible for them."