By Sgt. A.M. LaVeyAugust 24, 2011
BAGHDAD, Aug. 24, 2011 -- When service members rotate out of a combat zone, they can try to sell or give away their personal property -- things like televisions or other small appliances -- but most of the time those things get discarded.
"The Army has a very good organized, structured plan to handle government property, but not the Soldiers' personal property," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Velisa E. Phillips, deputy chief, Joint Task Force Counterintelligence Coordinating Authority Analysis Cell, military intelligence directorate, United States Forces - Iraq. "Over the years, we have accumulated a lot of stuff. When I got here there were 47,000 service members here, so even if half that number had a fridge or TV, we are talking about a lot of stuff."
That got Philips thinking about what could be done with all equipment destined to be left behind. Abandoned personal property creates a real problem for American forces and the Iraqi government, as they prepare for the eventual handover of base facilities.
"I thought perhaps we could gather up all of these things and give them to local low-income Iraqi families -- that way we could help the environment and help some the local community at the same time," said Phillips, who is a Reservist attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps.
With no official channel to collect and distribute these items, Phillips had her work cut out for her.
"I contacted different charity groups to help distribute these items, but I got the most help from [Department of Defense civilian] employees with ties to the local community," said Phillips.
One of the people who was most helpful was Saad A. al Asadi, the cultural advisor for the information operations division, USF-I operations directorate.
"A few months ago, someone told me about [Phillips] who had a bunch of appliances that needed to be donated to local Iraqis," said al Asadi. "I told her that I have a network of volunteers who will be happy to help in this task"
Al Asadi not only had local connections, but had been volunteering to distribute donated items like children's toys, clothes and soccer balls since 2007.
Phillips and al Asadi worked together to arrange a donation drop-off point and to secure the necessary transportation for the distribution of the items off post.
"I am overwhelmed at the amount of our Soldiers who have the willingness to give so much," said Phillips. "I am so impressed at the giving spirit of the Americans who are here in a combat environment."
Projects like this also help to solidify the fraternal relationship between the Iraqi and American people, coming together outside official channels, connecting on personal rather than professional levels, said al Asadi.