Desert Cat Soldier volunteers for humanitarian aid drop
August 17, 2010
BAGHDAD (Army News Service, Aug. 17, 2010) -- Spc. Nydia Montoya has a history of helping feed people in need.
In high school, for instance, she participated in food drives and delivered frozen turkeys and other Thanksgiving food products to impoverished neighbors.
But nothing in Montoya\'s 23-year past prepared her for what she would see and experience performing similar humanitarian work as a Soldier deployed in Iraq as part of Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
On July 26, Montoya, Capt. Michael Barnette, chaplain with the BTSB, conducted a humanitarian assistance mission delivering 50 bags of food, bottled water and children's toys to Iraqi families who live on the outskirts of Baghdad, just outside of Contingency Operating Station Falcon.
The Iraqi people in the area literally live among the trash -- tarps strung over failing roofs are held on with bricks or discarded metal, and makeshift fences adorned with tattered sheets mark property lines. Most of the children do not have shoes to wear.
The mission was Montoya's first outside the wire, as she has spent the last seven months of the deployment performing her duties as a human resources specialist.
Montoya said while the mission took up only a quarter of the day, participating in the humanitarian assistance mission and interacting with the Iraqi people struck an emotional chord.
"Even though there is a language barrier, you can sense (the Iraqi people asking), with no words, for help, it's a joy to know that by dedicating a little of your time you can make a big impact on others," she said.
While the American Soldiers distributed food and toys, Iraqi children danced and play-acted, awaiting their turns to receive toys.
Montoya said it upset her to see that the children in the area lived in such extreme poverty.
"It was difficult to maintain battle focus and mission focus, but I did it," she said. "I volunteered to help my country by giving hope and resources to the Iraqis."
Montoya said as the back ramp on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle closed and the Soldiers prepared to leave the site when the mission was nearing its end, an Iraqi boy communicated the universal sign language movements for "I love you."
"I will never forget that," she said. "I'm going to take with me their smiling faces."
(Sgt. Mary Katzenberger writes for 1st AAB, 3rd Inf. Div)