By Sgt. Ryan Twist, 139th MPAD, 13th ESC Public AffairsMarch 31, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers with the 3666th Support Maintenance Company provided clothing and other donated items to the local community during a humanitarian aid mission March 21 near Contingency Operating Base Taji, Iraq.
The items were donated through the Arizona Army National Guard, by a local organization in Arizona called Students Helping Students, started by a fellow Soldier to give to those in need.
Staff Sgt. Rose L. Mattie, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge with the 3666th SMC out of Phoenix, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Phoenix native, said the mission provided a chance for the local community to see the Soldiers do something positive and also gave the Soldiers a chance to see the culture and life outside the wire.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Raymond L. Baxter, an Allied Trades supervisor with the 3666th SMC, said the opportunity to conduct the mission came before they left the U.S.
Baxter, a Phoenix native, said he was approached a week before the deployment by Lt. Col. Dawn E. Latting, the Defense Movement Coordinator for the Arizona National Guard and a special education teacher who started the program, and asked if the unit would be interested in bringing clothing to distribute to the local Iraqi children.
"We were able to bring five tri-wall boxes full of clothes for the kids," he said.
Students Helping Students gives deployed Arizona units a chance to give back to the local community and offer some much-needed help to the children at the same time, said Baxter.
After they arrived in Iraq, the Soldiers cleaned the clothing and other items and sorted them, removing anything inappropriate.
Mattie said the clothing ranged from toddler to young adult, and they put together a complete outfit for each bag.
"We had 50 female and 50 male outfits that we put together," she said. "We distributed all of them and are hoping we can get some more and do it again."
Spc. Zandrast R. Rast, a supply clerk with the 3666th SMC and a Fort Defiance, Ariz., native, said her job was handing out the clothes as soon as they arrived at their destination.
"I was on the team to just hand out the clothes and ... to give out candy," she said.
When she arrived, Rast said she could tell they needed help.
"From what I saw, the little kids didn't have much," she said. "It felt good to give them clothes and to see their faces when they saw them."
Rast said when she got out of the vehicle, it reminded her of growing up on the Navajo reservation. People always brought them food but never clothing, so her family had to find them clothes to wear. Rast said she understood how the Iraqi children felt.
"I just wanted to help," she said.
Rast said it was important to show they cared.
"A lot of kids need help and some people just don't want to do it because (they think) it's their parents' responsibility," she said. "Sometimes they can't help the situation that they're in. It felt good, and if I were ever given a chance to do this again, I would."
Baxter said watching everyone hand out bags to the smiling children was an amazing feeling.
"It seemed like it went too fast," he said. "(We) were only there for a short period of time. We can't help all the kids, but to help some of them is great."
Baxter said he thinks the Soldiers will value the experience they were given.
"I think if you have a chance, an opportunity to help somebody, whether it's the Iraqi kids or even U.S. kids, take the time and do it," he said. "The way you feel inside after you help somebody is just great. I have kids of my own and I love volunteering. I was really happy to do this mission."
Baxter said his favorite part of the event was hearing the other Soldiers when they returned from the mission, talking about how great it was and how they planned to volunteer again.
Mattie said this was not her first time on a humanitarian aid mission.
"I really like doing this kind of stuff," she said. "I've had some experience before, going to Africa and to Jordan for a cultural mission. I think it's a great idea mainly for my troops to get out there and see different (cultures) because I've had these experiences. I wanted to make sure I could get some of our Soldiers out there ... to experience what is outside this military role."
Mattie said she tries to teach everyone that even though they are in a combat zone, there are people like them outside the wire.
She said they are planning a similar mission with the Operation Back to School program.
"I definitely want my Soldiers to take (away) the fact that they got a great experience and they did something ... positive over here, a selfless act," she said. "They actually contributed to something which probably will have an impact bigger than they could even imagine right now."