FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMAYAH (Army News Service, Aug. 9, 2007) - Before she deployed, Spc. Diana Sokol listened to Soldiers tell stories about how Iraqi children asked them for soccer balls and other items. She saw photos of kids in the city with virtually nothing but the clothes on their back, and she knew she would take action once deployed.

So when arrived in Iraq with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, the medic started a goodwill mission of securing soccer balls and other toys for Iraqi children.

"There is more than just fighting a war," she said. "We are supposed to help the Iraqis while we are here, as well."

To date, Spc. Sokol has distributed more than 300 soccer balls and 500 stuffed animals to children within the Strike Force Brigade's area of operation. And she she's far from being finished.

"Americans are very generous and would often send gift boxes of supplies to me, which I really appreciate," she said. "But how many bars of soap and toothpaste can you use on one deployment'"

Spc. Sokol started asking friends and family to send toys for the children instead. By word of mouth, information spread through her family, friends and their co-workers, and more people started to donate. One friend, who works at Texas Instruments, started a toy drive to collect more than 500 soccer balls, the biggest one-time donation to date.

Several other small businesses, such as soccer shops, along with individual donations, also helped, she said. Beanie Babies Ambassadors donated 300 stuffed animals, turning Spc. Sokol's room into a small warehouse.

"I will continue to give out toys for as long as I am here and hopefully someone else will continue," Spc. Sokol said. "Now, units come to me before going out on missions asking for toys and soccer balls for the kids.

"I don't believe all Iraqis don't care for Americans. It's just a small group of individuals that continue placing IEDs that make the general population look bad, and I don't want the children to suffer because of it."

(Maj. Sean Ryan is the public affairs officer for the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.)