By Kari Hawkins, Rocket Staff WriterMarch 21, 2008
Beanie babies, soccer balls, children's clothing, books, crayons and hygiene products can speak more than a thousand words of caring and concern when they are given to families who have survived the harsh realities of war.
Phillip Schamp has seen the difference a gift from America can make in Iraq. He has seen the joy on a child's face as they hug a stuffed animal or kick a new ball. He has shared quiet moments of gratitude with Iraqi parents who know U.S. Soldiers and civilians are working for the same thing they want -- a future of freedom and opportunity for their children.
Schamp, 22, left his job as a human resources specialist with the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (Branch 5, PEOs and SMDC) at Redstone Arsenal in October to spend a year in Baghdad as an administrative assistant for the Human Resources Department in support of the Corps of Engineers at the Victory Base complex. During his long days, he works primarily to fill staff positions on engineer teams who are building new roads, schools, hospitals, clinics and community facilities, and who are working to provide clean water, sewage services and electricity in the Al Anbar Province and Baghdad area. And, thanks to the help of his co-workers at the Arsenal's CPAC, Schamp also has the pleasure of providing Iraqi families with gifts from America.
"What I've seen here is, well, amazement," Schamp said. "Iraqis are amazed at the generosity of Americans, amazed at the number of things given, the different things given.
"Seeing the look on a father's face when you give his child a Beanie Baby ... that's something you carry with you for the rest of your life. It is a face that doesn't require any response from me more than what a simple 'you're welcome' will do. They need not say any words of gratitude because there are no words for what they feel at that moment. It is something that is very difficult to describe exactly what they are feeling. The best way to put their feelings ... is overwhelming joy."
Sherry Delancey and Debbi Frenn of CPAC have done a "phenomenal job" organizing the employee donations, said Schamp through an e-mail from Iraq. About 25 employees have been donating items for care packages sent to Iraqi families via Schamp since late November/early December.
"When we started getting his e-mails back we saw there was a need for what we are doing," said Frenn, who served as a civilian HR specialist in Kuwait in 2004.
"Whenever you deploy you really get into your mission. You embrace it. Part of the Corps of Engineers' job includes a bit of PR. They are the 'friendly force' that is there to help Iraqis rebuild their country. The Corps of Engineers has done amazing things. Phillip is contributing to the country on a broader scale and through the boxes of supplies and things we are sending to Phillip we feel like we are contributing, too."
In those first e-mails, Schamp described being located close to a hospital.
"He saw a lot of kids brought in with nothing but a blanket or a towel or a scrap of cloth," Delancey said. "And, they were just left there at the hospital. So, we asked 'What can we do'', 'What do you need'', 'How can we assist you''
"We had to prod Phillip. He went to the commander and talked to the people at the hospital. From that, we decided to focus on the children."
Schamp often comes into contact with Iraqi civilians. He describes them as "very friendly" and the children as intelligent despite their "hard-knock life, one that most of us will never know and hope our children will never know."
The good feelings Schamp and other civilians and Soldiers have created on a personal level with Iraqis through their gifts are an extension of the work the Corps of Engineers is doing to build relationships in the war-torn country. As new buildings and services are provided by the Corps of Engineers, Iraqis can see the U.S. commitment to leaving the country better than it was prior to the war.
"Electricity is very scarce here, schools were very rundown and had little to no real material, and hospitals were in horrible disrepair," Schamp recalls from his early days in Iraq.
"We have an enormous amount of projects at all times, and we are constantly completing and moving on. We are giving Iraqis what they need to really get their country out of the horrendous tyrant's lifestyle he gave to his people. If you could see what he gave to himself, and how little he appreciated his people ... That is what makes a tyrant a tyrant."
Schamp also believes Americans have been given the wrong impression of Iraq through the national media. Rarely are the good things happening in Iraq reported in the news.
"I believe if anyone in the U.S. could actually see what is happening here, their hearts and minds would change because of it," Schamp said.
"What we do here is bigger than ourselves. We are showing this country why we are one of the greatest countries in the world. We are bringing a sense of purpose back to the people here. They have aspirations. They no longer fear. They are fighting back the insurgents. We are merely a stepping stone to a large change in their way of life. Nothing more. We don't have the manpower to do it all here. But we do have the ability to show them what they can do if they want it bad enough. A lot are wanting more now."
Every day Schamp sees how the U.S. is making things better for Iraqis.
"Others may argue, but what we are doing here is changing these people's life for the better," he said. "Don't believe the horrors you read and hear about through news agencies. They only report the bad because bad news makes them money. The good here in country vastly outweighs the bad. And I have already seen big changes since I've been here. I see change every day. It's amazing."
Schamp was approached in late August 2007 about an assignment in Iraq after CPAC determined he had the qualifications. A young, single professional, he didn't hesitate to the take the assignment, seeing it as an opportunity to experience a different part of the world and to provide assistance to people who are struggling for freedom.
"I enjoy seeing other countries," he said. "Iraq has a lot of culture and history to it.
"I also wanted to be able to look back on my life when I am an old man and tell my grandchildren about my time spent here, and about the differences we have made and are still making. I want to be able to look back at my life as an old man and say 'I volunteered to help.' I want to be that person someone could count on. I have always volunteered to do things for others. I have and will always volunteer to do what is necessary to help this world for the future."
Schamp is responsible for recruiting "highly motivated engineers" to Iraq and then placing them in jobs where they can make a difference.
"I work with Soldiers and commands every day," Schamp said. "I work with Iraqis every day. But I also see Iraqis on a personal level. I've done everything from enjoying a game of soccer to helping survey an area for future constructions."
Schamp recruits engineers from the Corps' Huntsville, Mobile, Norfolk, Va., and Walla Walla, Wash., districts. There are also employees from the State Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs, and Park Service who are working with the Corps of Engineers in Iraq. Some general contractors also supply engineers for the Corps' work.
"By law, I am only allowed to recruit DoD civilians because of conflict of interest laws," he said.
"However, I do work closely with our contractor HR person. He is highly skilled and knows what it takes as well. He is a German national. We work closely together to implement better introduction and adaptations to things once employees get in country."
Engineers and other civilians taking on an Iraqi assignment choose to do so for several reasons. Some are drawn by the adventure and challenges of working in a foreign country while others are attracted by the monetary benefits.
"The money makes a big difference in the people's lives who work here," Schamp said. "We work a lot of hours, and any one of us easily does more then two times the work as you would in the states. And for many of us, it pulls us out of debt. Many have left with the statement being they changed their family's life by volunteering to work hard here."
But, to be successful at a job in Iraq, civilians have to be committed and focused on their work, and they have to be able to work long hours with little contact with their families.
"I don't try to make anyone's decision for them," Schamp said. "Everyone has their own circumstances, and we would never want to take someone who doesn't want to be here due to family constraints or personal fears. I always make it a point to share a quote we devised here with each person - 'Fear is temporary, regret is forever.' We use this as our creed here."
Once engineers arrive in Iraq on assignment, Schamp is responsible for arranging their housing and meals, and taking care of anything they need to do their job. HR specialists also brief the engineers on the current environment and maintain regular contact with the engineers working in Iraq's Gulf Region Central.
Though far from home, Schamp's work in Iraq has been so rewarding that he has considered extending his mission beyond his return date in October. The dedication he has witnessed among the Soldiers in Iraq has made Schamp even more determined to help build a new Iraq.
"I've been in a few very bad situations, but never once did I wish I was home," he said. "I miss my family like everyone else here.
"But, as the Soldiers don't have the ability to say 'O.K., I've had enough. Time for me to go home,' then I won't. I'm here serving with my military brothers and sisters every day. I won't go home because I can. I will stick out the fight with them. You learn a whole new respect for them when you see just exactly what they endure here."
But that doesn't mean there haven't been times that have been tough for Schamp and his co-workers. They face a lot of challenges in their work - long hours, constant contact with different types of people, working and living in a combat zone (Schamp has been close to two car bomb and a few mortar shell attacks) and being away from loved ones. It is inevitable that the stress can cause co-workers to experience emotional breakdowns.
"Usually, breakdowns end with someone venting for a few minutes," he said. "We all understand what is going on, and that sometimes you just have to vent ... It does get to you over time. But when you look at the differences being made, it makes it all worth it."
When he does return to the U.S., Schamp plans to resume his job with CPAC at Redstone Arsenal. Schamp has also considered working in Germany, where he once lived with his parents, who now reside in Annapolis, Md.
"I enjoy working anywhere to be honest," he said. "After working here, you kind of learn there isn't much to complain about anywhere else. I'd have weekends, my bed, my house, work 100 hours less every two weeks and, best of all, no sand!"
As long as Schamp is in Iraq, the workers at the Arsenal's CPAC plan on continuing to send their support to him and the children of Iraq.
"We want to keep this alive until Phillip comes back," Frenn said. "I think we should all be part of this or find another way to help our Soldiers if we are committed to focusing on the Army mission. Finding ways we can individually help in Iraq is part of the heart and part of the professional ideology of the Army mission."
Schamp hopes that support and the work being done to rebuild Iraq will eventually transform it into a stable country that can be visited by foreigners.
"I hope that in the future, Iraq will be an actual safe area to be in. I would like to come back in 10 or 15 years to really see the changes in the country," he said. "I believe it will be a tourist attraction. The country is beautiful, and has such history. It really is a gorgeous country when you get the problems cleaned up a little. I wouldn't hesitate to bring my family here if things continue the way they are."