By Capt. Murray Shugars, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined ArmsMarch 2, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Mississippi Army National Guardsmen delivered care packages from a Rhode Island town to a village near Contingency Operating Location Q-West, during a routine perimeter patrol Feb. 1.
Soldiers with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined Arms, 155th Brigade Combat Team, the Q-West force protection company out of Hernando, Miss., delivered clothing, school supplies and other items donated by residents of Barrington, R.I., to the villagers of Jedallah Anuk.
Victoria Belmont - a Barrington grade school teacher with a son and daughter who served as Army officers - organized the effort.
"I am thrilled to know that the packages have arrived," said Belmont, a first- and second-grade teacher at Primrose Hill Elementary School in Barrington. "I am even more excited to think that I can finally give some feedback to so many people who have continued to support my efforts over the years."
Belmont said she represents the people of Barrington and has been gathering and sending donations to Jedallah Anuk for seven years.
The effort began in 2003 when Belmont's son deployed to Iraq as an Apache Longbow pilot serving with the 101st Airborne Division. She read about a 101st program called Adopt-a-Village, in which an American community could support a designated Iraqi community in the division's area of responsibility, said Belmont. Belmont committed to adopting a village in behalf of Barrington and was assigned Jedallah Anuk, she said.
"It was an effort to establish good relations between our American Soldiers and the peoples of Iraq," said Belmont. "The Barrington town council passed a resolution in support of the peoples of the village of Jedallah Anuk in their efforts to achieve self governance, equality and freedom."
Local schools, churches and businesses contributed, said Belmont, and the effort has continued since.
The Soldiers who delivered the packages were glad to help, said Capt. Drew Clark, commander of A Company, 2/198th CAB.
"We're happy to help out this effort," said Clark, a resident of Madison, Miss. "This is a different mission than my Soldiers usually do, and it gives them a chance to get to know the local people on a more personal level."
Staff Sgt. Kenwith D. Scott, a squad leader and patrol commander from Rosedale, Miss., agreed that delivering the gifts was beneficial for the Soldiers as well as the people of Jedallah Anuk.
"Helping people that need help is always a good thing," said Scott. "Our job usually keeps us at a distance from the local people, and it was a good experience to bring these packages to the people. My Soldiers don't get a chance to interact with the locals much, so this was a great opportunity to reach out and to get to know the people and learn more about their culture."
Spc. John W. Day, a truck commander from Williston, Tenn., said he was grateful for the experience.
"This is the first time I've ever had a chance to do something like this, to get out with the people and give gifts," said Day. "It reminds me that these people need our help and that not everybody is a bad guy."
Day said the humanitarian mission allowed him to see the war from a significantly different point of view, one that he would always remember.
"This was my first time ever to walk through an Iraqi village because during patrols we drive our gun trucks around villages," said Day. "I was nervous at first, but the people were happy to see us and glad for the gifts. It was a great experience to see first-hand how the people live, instead of seeing it from behind all that armor."
Pfc. Hunter J. Brown, a gunner from Daleville, Miss., was also glad for the unique mission.
"I've never went inside a village before, and it was exciting to go in where the people live, to interact with them in their own village," said Brown. "This was outstanding, and a big change from our regular patrols, basically driving around but staying away from the villages. This was a good change of pace."
Spc. Robert S. Bowen, a driver from Southaven, Miss., said it was important that U.S. forces continue to help the Iraqi people.
"Helping the Iraqis is always worthwhile," said Bowen. "These people out here in the little villages don't have much money, and they don't seem to get much support from the government. So I'm glad we can help."
Spc. Jeffery D. Thompson, a radio operator and gun truck driver from Wyatte, Miss., said the mission sent a powerful message to the Iraqis.
"It was a great opportunity to assist the people, especially the children who need clothing, shoes and school supplies," said Thompson. "It showed we're here to help, that we care. I was glad we could help the people from Barrington deliver these gifts. It shows that Americans are united and that they care about rebuilding Iraq."
Ibrahim Hawaas Madlul, the mukhtar or village leader of Jedallah Anuk, said he was grateful to both the people of Barrignton, R.I., and to the Mississippi Guardsmen for the gifts.
"On behalf of my village, I want to thank the people of Barrington for these gifts," said Madlul. "The coats and shoes and the school supplies have made us happy. I also want to thank the Soldiers from Mississippi for delivering them to us."