By Sgt. Bryce Dubee 4th SBCT 2nd Inf. Div., USD-CMarch 31, 2010
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - With their Strykers parked outside, 1st Lt. Matt Sawdy led 1st platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, into the building, his men setting up a security perimeter along the way.
Inside the courtyard, the lieutenant met with his Iraqi Army counterpart, discussed plans for the day's mission, then took a knee, placing his M4 carbine at his side and picking up a bright pink Barbie backpack.
Soldiers from the platoon conducted a series of humanitarian assistance drops March 25, delivering roughly 2,400 backpacks full of school supplies to children at schools in their operational environment.
As Sawdy and his men took their positions to begin distributing the supplies, teachers from the school led their eager students into the courtyard.
"It's good to get out here and help the kids out," he said. "As a father, it makes you feel good."
As security continues to improve in Iraq, the infantrymen are finding themselves conducting more of these types of missions rather than the high-intensity combat operations they would have conducted during their previous deployments.
After two deployments to Iraq full of intense fighting from 2003 to 2004 and again from 2006 to 2007, Sgt. 1st Class Adam Asclipiadis assumed this deployment would be similar.
"This deployment is different from the last," the San Jose, Calif., native said, explaining that even with the pre-deployment emphasis on supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, citizens and government, the amount of non-lethal missions he's conducted this deployment came as a surprise.
"Even the non-kinetic operations at (the Joint Readiness Training Center,) the key leader engagements, and all that did not prepare my brain for this," the infantry platoon sergeant said, as smiling schoolchildren lined up to get their supplies. "There's a sense of satisfaction that the deployments we did before meant something."
This fact is something that Asclipiadis imparts on his Soldiers, admitting that sometimes there's a challenge in explaining this new reality to young infantrymen, straight out of training, who anticipate they will be heading into a fight.
"Ever since basic, they've been drilled 'kill, kill, kill, assault and breach.'- We're not really doing any of that, so you have to refocus them," he said, adding that while some might get frustrated at times with the boredom of something like a school supply drop, he feels his Soldiers will realize the significance of their actions in the long run. "Years from now they'll look back and say, 'I did that.'"
Participating in the mission that day, while on his first deployment, was Pfc. Benjamin Dodd, a M240 machine gunner. He said that while it's not what he expected, he's embracing his new role.
"It's a totally different war now," the Rockville, Tenn., native said. "We're trying to build (the Iraqis) up now as a country."
Dodd said he's appreciative of the real-world experience he's gaining while deployed and better understands the sacrifices of the Soldiers who came before him.
A Stryker driver from Milladore, Wisc., also on his first deployment, Pfc. Robert Grassel agreed, echoing a comment spoken by Asclipiadis earlier that day.
"Sgt. A said that this deployment is better because he'd rather go home with all of his Soldiers than a bag full of memories," said Grassel.
For Dodd, while he's first and foremost an infantryman, he enjoys watching the Iraqi children running away with smiles on their faces and arms full of school supplies.
"If I had to do projects all the time," he said, "these are the kind I'd want to do."