FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (Army News Service, June 6, 2008) - After being asked by Family members what he or his fellow Soldiers of the 230th Military Police Company needed for their deployment, one Soldier felt the unit didn't need anything, but local Iraqi children could use some assistance.

"Fortunately we are pretty blessed, living well here on FOB Kalsu, Iraq," said Spc. Jonathan Flanagan. "We have pretty much everything a Soldier needs to survive and we live rather comfortably considering we are in a war zone."

While at the Diyarah Iraqi Police Station, the idea for the new project came to him when a child approached him cautiously, calling out: "Pen mista' Mista, mista, pen'" Flanagan recalled.

"I reached into my sleeve and pulled out a pen and thought 'what an odd request, what does a 6-year old want with a pen''"

Puzzled by the question, Flanagan asked his interpreter for assistance. The interpreter told him the children needed pens, pencils and other school supplies.

"Some kids had back packs, some just carried a half-used spiral (notebook) and a pencil, some had shoes and some didn't," Flanagan said. "It was rather upsetting ... some of the kids are so under-equipped they don't have a fighting chance at an education."

What started with one pen quickly escalated.

"He told his friends that I had pens and before you knew it I was swarmed by children chanting 'pen mista,'" Flanagan said. "It wasn't long before not only was I out of pens, but my entire squad was out of pens."

As the children learned of the pen give-away, Flanagan said soon he and fellow Soldiers were surrounded by the outreached hands of needy children.

Once he and his fellow Soldiers returned to their home base at Kalsu, they made a trip to the Post Exchange for a pen resupply. It was the start of "Operation Pen Mista," he said.

"We bought every last pen and pencil in stock, which probably caused a FOB-wide pen shortage for a week, but we didn't care," Flanagan said.

After returning from another patrol in Diyarah, Flanagan e-mailed his aunt and told her there was something she could do for the children in the area.

She contacted Rev. Chuck Huffman of United Methodist Temple, in Port Arthur, Texas, and his parishioners rapidly organized a school supply drive for the kids of Diyarah.

Within weeks boxes of supplies began arriving in support of "Operation Pen Mista."

"I was overcome by the passion these people had for helping others," Flanagan said. "The next step was delivering the supplies to the children."

The supplies were loaded onto a truck and a group of IP along with the Soldiers began handing out the supplies.

"As we began our march to the middle of town within a few feet out of the driveway, the first two children approached us," Flanagan said. "We waved them over and, much to their surprise, the IP began handing them crayons and paper."

The word spread immediately, and Soldiers and IP were swarmed with children the rest of the day.

Ironically, Flanagan ran into Saddam, the child who first asked him for a pen.

"This time I reached into the truck and pulled out a whole pack of pens and gave them to him," he said.