BAGHDAD - After hearing a presentation from a Tennessee National Guardsman who had recently returned from Iraq about how the future of the country will be in the hands of its children, Richard Kolasheski and others at the American Legion Post 256 in Loudon, Tenn. came away with a new idea for helping Soldiers fighting overseas.

Kolasheski, a retired Army colonel, had taken part in a donation drive for Soldiers about a year earlier, and he wanted to do something similar, but this time with the focus being on young, Iraqi children.

"A lot of people asked, 'why are you sending things to Iraqi kids'" he explained about the questions they received when they first started pitching the idea to other people and organizations. "Based on things the National Guard representative said, we did this with the thought of winning the hearts and minds.'

'We wanted the kids to see that there's a human side to us, and that Soldiers are interested in kids. Help GIs win the hearts and minds and get home sooner is what we told people.'"

Instead of accepting donated goods, Kolasheski said they thought raising money and then buying school supplies in bulk would be much more economical, and so the American Legion Post 256, along with assistance from the local Lions Club, Rotary Club, Kiwanis and the Tellico Village Community Church began raising funds for the project in January.

"Our idea was that $25 would support one kid, and most people we approached were willing to support at least one kid," he explained.

While raising money was the focus, they soon received a generous donation of soccer equipment that they couldn't pass up.

American Soccer Incorporated, which is owned by a friend of one of the Legionaires, donated 1,000 backpacks, 1,000 soccer balls and 5,000 soccer jerseys, and all of a sudden the focus of the campaign to raise money to buy goods for Iraqi school children switched to raising money to ship all of this soccer equipment.

They eventually raised $27,000, which gave them not only the money to pay for the shipment of thousands of pounds of equipment, but also to accomplish their original plan of buying and donating school supplies.

Everything was sent at the end of June in two shipments: one going to Kolasheski's son, who is a battalion commander with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and the other going to his son-in-law, Maj. Christopher Norrie's, unit, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.Af'A,A

Norrie, who is originally from Barton, Vt., said that once the donated items were on their way, the only thing left to do was select a school to distribute them at, and so the squadron's leadership approached the local Iraqi leaders in their area of operations and decided on donating the items to the students at Harthia Primary School.

"They picked that particular school because those are probably the most impoverished children in our area of operations and they don't have a lot to look forward to," he said.

So with everything set, the soccer equipment and school supplies were delivered by Soldiers from Company E, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, which is attached to 4-9 Cav.; D, Forward Support Company, 4-9 Cav.; and the 4th Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, Oct. 23.

The Soldiers went from classroom to classroom, first handing out the backpacks and then the soccer balls and jerseys to the schools 570 students, who range in age from six to 12.

"The students are very happy to get this backpacks and it brings smiles to their faces," the school's headmaster, Faten Shehab Ahmed.

She said that the teachers were just as happy to receive the school supplies as the kids were to receive to the soccer equipment, and that she hopes to continue her school's partnership with the Coalition Forces.

Norrie said that the day after the backpack drop, leaders in Harthia continued to call the squadron to thank them for the donations; however, Norrie was quick to note that the real thanks should be directed toward the residents of Loudon, Tenn. who made this event possible.

"To sit there with an idea, and then translate that idea into what it became, is something requires a lot of talent, a lot of effort, a lot of hard work and dedication, and there's a whole group of folks back there who put all of that together," he said. "I feel particularly humbled to know those kinds of folks and to be associated with those kinds of folks, and then also so very, very proud of our county and who we are as Americans.'

'To know that, not having been asked, and not needing to do it, a group of citizens back in the United States, raised their hands and said I would love to help and they did everything that they could to do just that over the last few months, and it was a pretty wonderful way to help. And I think everyone of those kids experienced an event yesterday that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.'""

Page last updated Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 15:09