First Army launches toy drive for Afghan children
May 17, 2012
By Tim Shannon
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (May 17, 2012) -- Bringing smiles to Afghan children wasn't covered in mobilization training nor listed on most Afghanistan trainers-mentors' "to-do" lists.
But when one First Army Division East Reservist started thinking about the children in his area, the idea took root and was supported by other members of his team.
While deployed as a trainer-mentor in Afghanistan, Capt. Chad Daniels, 1-335th Infantry Battalion, 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, wanted to reach out to the children in his area of operation, Pol-e-charki.
Daniels and fellow trainers from the First Army team hatched an idea to partner enthusiastic volunteers in the United States with local school children.
The plan was for the American volunteers to collect toys and school supplies that would be taken by First Army Soldiers to Afghanistan to be distributed to Afghan children.
By the program's end, more than 400 toys were gathered and distributed.
"Many of us have family and friends back home who want to help in some way and this was the best opportunity," Daniels said.
Headquartered at Fort Meade, First Army Division East mobilizes, trains, validates, deploys and demobilizes Reserve Component troops. First Army trainer-mentor teams are primarily tasked with providing Afghan soldiers with security training.
"We wanted to include the Afghan National Army [in the toy drive] as well, so we worked with the religious and cultural affairs officer with the Kandak Battalion," Daniels said.
The joint effort went even further.
"We also made great relationships with Soldiers from the Romanian and Jordanian [armies], so we asked them if they wanted to help as well," Daniels said. "It was truly a coalition effort."
Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Reese, 1-409th, 4th Cavalry Brigade, praised the efforts of all those who participated in the joint effort.
"Basically, we solicited the charity of our friends and family and they responded in true American fashion," Reese said. "Additionally, Captain Daniels extended the invitation to help to our coalition partners, which put an Afghan face to the mission. Everyone helped with consolidating supplies and distribution."
Among those involved was Jordanian Air Traffic Controller Maj. Khaldoun Ali Bani Melhem.
"Participating in this made me happy," Melhem said. "This project was excellent for the children and Soldiers, and supporting families also. No pen can describe the feelings of that day."
While the Soldiers enjoyed themselves throughout the process, the Afghan children were a little apprehensive.
"They were a bit reluctant at first, considering the image of a bunch of grown-ups in combat uniforms with side arms on," Balica said. "But the curiosity of seeing what was inside the school supplies bag overcame the initial fear and they started to laugh, talk loudly -- things normal for a little child."
"The children were very thankful," he said. "They were noticeably shy at first but soon opened up, and the smiles came."
Sgt. 1st Class Alex Almeida, 1-307th Infantry Battalion, 174th Infantry Brigade said this was the first time he had ever volunteered for an overseas project.
"This is my first time doing something like this and it feels very fulfilling and rewarding," he said. "It only takes one person to make a change."
Maj. Ciprian Balica, an intelligence officer with the 341st Infantry, Romanian army, said he could see his own children in the happy faces of the Afghan children as they received the toys and school supplies.
"It felt real supportive to be able to bring a moment of happiness and a smile on those little kids as they live in a dangerous environment," Balica said. "Since I have two toddlers myself, I saw the same joy as my kids would have had when they received something."