By Pfc. Emily Knitter, United States Division-CenterSeptember 20, 2010
BAGHDAD - Women and children sat on a long row of black couches as Iraqi Police officers and U.S. Soldiers carried overflowing bags into the room. Some of the children stared at the bags intently, hoping for a glimpse inside.
But a few children with sad eyes sat next to their mothers, uninterested in the commotion. They were a solemn reminder of why everyone was gathered.
These women and children are the widows and orphans of fallen Iraqi Policemen with the Baghdad Police Headquarters, killed in the line of duty during recent months.
Soldiers with 1st Detachment, 94th Military Police Company, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division - Center, partnered with the Baghdad Police Headquarters to give the these family members bags full of clothes and toys during a ceremony here, Sept. 14.
The police officers with the Baghdad Police Headquarters, also known as the Patrol Police, are stationed around the city to provide security near highly congested areas, businesses and mosques.
"[The IP officers] have an extremely dangerous job," said 1st Lt. Eric Giles, assistant operations officer for the Baghdad Police Advisory Team and a team leader with 1st Det., 94th MP Co., based out of Saco, Maine. "When [the BPAT was] talking to the IP, we learned that they have a number of officers killed in the line of duty who left widows behind. One of the things the [Patrol Police] do is pay that officer's salary to the family."
To augment the salary the widowed family receives, the BPAT arranged the delivery of the clothes, toys and personal hygiene supplies.
"When they bring the families in to give them their paychecks, we thought it would be a great time to give the families a little something extra from the people back [in the U.S.]," Giles said. "We have built such a good relationship with the IP command that we can make this happen."
When the BPAT approached Patrol Police officers about donating the supplies, the idea was immediately approved and organization began.
"In every occasion, we try to find an opportunity to appreciate our [fallen] and what they gave up in order to provide security for Baghdad and to protect our citizens," said Maj. Gen. Sabah Hassan Al-Shelby, commander of the Patrol Police. "We also try to follow up with the families to make sure they get all the benefits."
The items given to the families were collected through donations from people back in the U.S., and Soldiers here in Iraq.
"Especially now that we have progressed to Operation New Dawn, this mission offers us a purpose for being here," said Capt. Page Brooks, a chaplain with the Louisiana National Guard, and one of the key organizers of the event. "Now that we have ended combat operations, we are getting down to the very personal needs of the Iraqi people in order to encourage them."
For the Soldiers of 1st Det., 94th MP Co., this was the first time they have had the opportunity to participate in an event like this.
One Soldier said he felt a little like Santa Claus during the drive to deliver the supplies.
"This puts faces with the operations we are doing," Brooks said. "It gives the Soldiers a sense of purpose, [because they are] touching people on a personal level rather than just doing operational missions or combat operations. It allows us to see the joy on the kids' faces as they pick up a toy; or the families when they see the things we have collected for them."
Once all the bags were carried into the room, some of the Soldiers were asked by Al-Shelby to personally hand the bags to the widows and orphans.
Capt. Armando Carbajal, the BPAT operations officer, was called forward as a young boy and girl walked forward timidly. Al-Shelby explained that their father had been the same rank as Carbajal when he was killed. A police officer back in the U.S., Carbajal also has three children of his own.
"[When I walked up there] I immediately thought of my own son and what he would have felt," Carbajal said. "I had no idea that the general was going to call me up there, but I wanted to give those kids something tangible, because I know if someone did that for my own son, it would have made a huge difference."
So Carbajal took the rank off the front of his uniform and handed it to the boy.
"Being a police officer, I have attended many memorial services like that, and I know how important for those kids it is so have something to hold onto and remember their father," he said. "Since I am also a captain, I wanted the boy to know the mutual respect that is held between two cops, and also that the U.S. forces and his father were on the same team."
Fifteen families were presented gift bags during the ceremony. Each time a widow or orphan came forward to receive their bag, the appreciation in their faces was shadowed with sadness.
"As a police headquarters, we have 750 fallen policemen whose blood has been shed to show the stability and security of Iraq and to protect the citizens," Al-Shelby said. "We remember them all the time."
As U.S. forces step back and now advise and assist the Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces with taking control of the daily operations of their country, it is events like this that keep the two countries intertwined.
"This has really been a great event bringing everyone together," Brooks said. "It gives us a sense of helping the Iraqi people, and I think it also lets the Iraqi people know that we are not just [handing] everything over to them, but that we also care about them personally after these tragedies happen. It is a great partnership between our units here, the Iraqi Police and our families back home."