By Spc. Heather Todd 1192nd Eng. Co., USD-CApril 9, 2010
BAGHDAD - Soldiers of the Ohio National Guard 16th Engineer Brigade, in partnership with the Iraqi Army 17th Division, recently identified two local Baghdad schools in critical need of school supplies.
The engineers decided to take a new approach: laying down hammers and backhoes and picking up telephones. They have widened their combined efforts to include friends and families back in the States.
"This is a different type of initiative because it allows our friends and families to get involved in our mission and help us to have a positive impact on the kids for years to come," said Capt. Aaron Testa of Medina, Ohio, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 16th Eng. Bde.
In an effort to improve the children's learning experiences and alleviate the distraction of not having the right educational tools, the engineers are asking others to help them donate enough school supplies for the 1,500-plus students attending the two schools.
"We might not be able to do a lot of things that we'd like to but we can at least get the kids the supplies that they need," said Maj. Nick Slupski, , a school teacher from Westerville, Ohio, and a construction project manager for HHC, 16th Eng. Bde.
Brig. Gen. Glenn C. Hammond, III, commander of the brigade, said he hopes to collect what he calls mission essential supplies, such as backpacks, scissors, metric rulers, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, colored pencils, notebooks and folders.
Although the project has just begun, leaders say they are confident about reaching their goals.
"The support from back home is great," said Col. Tris Cooper, deputy brigade commander, 16th Eng. Bde., from Marion, Ohio. "I've got about a dozen people who already want to help."
Some involved in this unique approach to traditional engineering projects say this is turning out to be a labor of love for them.
"We are thrilled to be able to help these kids out and leave a positive impact on the lives of these Iraqi citizens. I'm just lucky enough to be involved," said Capt. Chad Taylor, of Conesville, Ohio, a member of the HHC, 16th Eng. Bde.
Brigade leaders have placed a mark on the wall, saying they want to be able to accumulate the school supplies by May 15 in order to provide them and Iraqi Army soldiers enough time to distribute to the supplies to the students. They have also extended the invitation beyond their friends and families, said Testa.
"Anyone can donate. This is a great opportunity for our friends, families and employers back home who have been asking us all along what they can do to help," said Testa. "Now is their chance."