BAGHDAD - Soldiers from 1st Armored Division worked together with sailors, airmen and civilians to distribute pediatric wheelchairs to approximately 40 disabled Iraqi children at the Camp Liberty Field House June 21.
The project manager, Brad Blauser, an administrative assistant for Task Force Safe, founded the organization Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids which provided the wheelchairs for the event.
According to a 2006 March of Dimes study, as many as 8 million children worldwide are born with serious birth defects such as cerebral palsy. Iraq is no different, said Blauser.
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids was created in August 2005 in response to a request for aid from Soldiers who had witnessed disabled children without wheelchairs struggling for mobility, said Blauser. With help from Soldiers all over Iraq, Blauser has distributed more than 740 pediatric wheelchairs all over the country.
The wheelchairs are designed specifically for children who live in areas of rough terrain, explained Blauser.
"These wheelchairs are going to change these children's lives," said Blauser. "They will improve their health and prolong their lives. It is encouraging and makes me happy to continue this work."
Army Pfc. Ginger Lamere, from Company B, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Armd. Div., volunteered her free time to help fellow service members assemble wheelchairs the day prior to the event.
"It's such a good cause," said Lamere, a mechanic in the DSTB motorpool. She smiled and said her job didn't really make assembling wheelchairs any easier as they didn't come with instructions.
Maj. Fred Phillip, the DSTB executive officer, heard about the event and sent out a request for volunteers from the battalion. The response surprised him.
"The turnout was great. There are more volunteers than I expected," he said. "This is such a rewarding experience, more so than anything most of these Soldiers will do during their whole deployment."
With so many volunteers, the assembly of the wheelchairs only took a couple of hours. However, the distribution of the chairs proved more difficult. It was not as simple as just handing them out. The children had to have the chairs fitted to their bodies to avoid causing further health complications.
Pressure sores can develop and become very serious if they become infected, said Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart, the division surgeon for 1st Armd. Div.: "These chairs are designed to fit the size and condition of the child."
Each child was carefully placed in a wheelchair and service members gently adjusted the chair to fit the child's body to ensure their comfort and safety. One parent of each child was present to observe how to adjust the chairs so as their children grow, the chair can be adjusted to "grow" with them.
"These chairs can benefit children in many situations," said Capt. Antonio Chang, a DSTB aid station physician assistant. "The chairs can be used by children with conditions from multiple sclerosis to trauma injuries."
The event, while providing wheelchairs to children in need, also provided a great sense of accomplishment and joy to many of the volunteers.
"This was a great opportunity to give back to the Iraqi people and a great way to ring in the new era of [Operation] New Dawn," said Chang. "I feel lucky to be one of the fortunate ones to be here. ... It brings me great happiness to be a part of this."