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Kids of Iraq help futher community relations
Airman 1st Class Lescotcia Smith, 332nd Expeditionary Force Support Squadron JBB lodging representative, sorts through school supplies, organizing them in boxes before packing them up for distribution March 11 as part of a Kids of Iraq project. KOI is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Iraqi children by fulfilling their basic needs and providing for a brighter future. Smith is deployed here from Fort Worth Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Texas, and is a native of Opelouss, La. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Dilia Ayala)
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‘Kids of Iraq’ help further community relations

Posted 3/31/2009   Updated 3/31/2009 Email story   Print story


by SSgt Dilia Ayala
332 Aerospace Expeditionary Wing

3/31/2009 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- More than 70 volunteers and chapel team members from across JBB joined forces to sort through and prepare children's items for distribution as part of a "Kids of Iraq" initiative March 11. 

Started in 2008, Kids of Iraq is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Iraqi children by fulfilling their basic needs and providing for a brighter future. 

"Today, we are separating and boxing up supplies and toys to give to Iraqi children and their families out in the community to help further community relations with the Iraqi nation," said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Barbee, 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron armament flight chief and KOI volunteer. "We are here to help them become a sovereign nation. So it's important that we are able to provide items like these to show them that it's not just about fighting a war, it's about building relationships in the community." 

Chaplain (Capt.) M. David Haltom, 732nd Air Expeditionary Group chaplain and KOI coordinator, agreed. 

"Each donation helps to strengthen the bond between American troops and Iraqis, which reinforces a long-term relationship with the country and its people," said the chaplain, who's deployed here from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. "It's not just going to bless these children and their families; it is being strategically used to further our mission to better this country. 

"I didn't start (Kids of Iraq); it was started a year ago by Marcy Hoffman," continued the chaplain from Springfield, Mo. "When I got here, there was no one running the program, so I stepped up and started coordinating the base-wide effort to collect the items that are here, not soliciting any new items. I'm in a unique position as the 732nd Air Expeditionary Group chaplain; it awards me the opportunity to go outside the wire. So I am able to actually hand out all this stuff and plan deliveries." 

Overall, volunteers sorted and packed donations such as, toys and school supplies into boxes to send to the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and U.S. forces to distribute among Iraqi children and families. 

"We've already sent out 9,000 pounds," said Haltom. "Today we are sending out 5,000 pounds of children's items. We have four more missions on deck, and we have a request for 12,000 pounds of items. It's not just 12,000 pounds of items to just indiscriminately hand out; it is these children's items that will support all of our mission sets." 

Working for the U.S. Army, 732nd AEG Airmen are charged with the mission of helping stand up the IA and the IP. 

"Supporting the mission of the 732nd means supporting the Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Army, and other elements of Iraqi society," said the chaplain. "Those two organizations are really important. They really need kids items to further their mission. They (732nd AEG Airmen) are trying to help the Iraqi Army develop good relations with the community around their army bases. 

"Just like back home, our bases need support from the community surrounding the base, so do the (Iraqi) Army bases in order for them to be successful," he continued. "Right now, there are some army bases struggling to develop that goodwill. These kids items assist them in doing that. It actually helps our guys stay safe too. (Airmen) are trying to help Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police change hearts and minds concerning their role in this country." 

Barbee agreed and encouraged others to get involved at JBB to help KOI continue to have a positive impact on not only Iraqi children, but an entire Iraqi community. 

"I know that this is a nation that needs help. That's why I'm here," said Barbee. "The chapel has a great program set up. If you don't want to just help with Kids of Iraq, just come out and volunteer your services to help anywhere on base, the hospital or the chapel. There are a lot of things to do, and we can use your help." 

Haltom emphasized the impact KOI is having on Airmen and Iraqi soldiers alike.
"All items will be strategically used across the country to support our warfighters outside the wire, specifically our servicemembers working in direct support of the Iraqi Army and Police," he said. "Under Sadam Hussein, the IA and the IP were used improperly. Now, they are trying to change the perception as to how they are used and what they are there for. These items go to them and help shape the new perception. 

"The Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police are here to serve and protect the citizens of this country," he concluded. "The faster they're successfully stood-up and self-sustaining, the better."

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