|Photo by 1st Lt. Scott Slaugh|
AL QAYYARAH, IRAQ-Soldiers from Utah's 116th Engineer Company (Convoy Security) distributed thousands of dollars worth of humanitarian and educational supplies to two villages in Northern Iraq on March 15. The items were donated by individuals and businesses throughout Utah as part of the "Feed Uncle SAM" drive that took place between September and November last year.
Soldiers from the 116th Engineers partnered with an Army Civil Affairs team and with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to distribute the supplies to two local villages near their Forward Operating Base approximately 65 miles south of Mosul, Iraq. Lt. Brent Taylor of North Ogden commanded the distribution mission, with Master Sgt. Kim Tanner of Paragonah as the senior non-commissioned officer. Lt. Col. Rodney Fogg, commander of the Alaska based 17th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion was the senior officer.
The supplies came as a surprise to the villagers, who were not expecting the visit from the 116th. Upon arrival in the village of Qudeela, Lt. Taylor and Col. Fogg visited with the local tribal Sheik and with the village school headmaster to explain the purpose of their visit. Sheik Hamad and the headmaster gratefully accepted 10 large boxes of educational supplies, including notebooks, pencils, pens, paper, and crayons. The headmaster thanked the 116th for the supplies, and stated that it was enough supplies for at least six months in his school.
After unloading the educational supplies, Sheik Hamad invited Lt. Taylor and Col. Fogg into his house for traditional Iraq Chai Tea and to discuss the problems facing his village. After the friendly visit was over, the Sheik oversaw the distribution of 40 boxes of humanitarian supplies to his people. Hundreds of excited Iraqis accepted the blankets, quilts, shoes, clothes, hygiene kits, and food items all donated by generous Utahns.
Next, the 116th moved to the village of Ankawa where they first delivered supplies to the local medical clinic. Clinic manager Idrees Abd Mohammad accepted five boxes with more than $1,500 dollars of various medical supplies, including splints, surgical instruments and bandages. Mohammad could not stop smiling as the donated items were placed in his clinic and he repeatedly thanked the 116th for the donations. It was easy to see from the sparse appearance of the humble clinic, that the donations were very much needed and would be much appreciated.
Afterwards, the local tribal Sheik, Mohammad, invited Lt. Taylor and Col. Fogg to his house for Chai tea while 116th Soldiers unloaded other humanitarian supplies in the village square. Sheik Mohammad spoke to the officers about the problems facing his village, and of the difficulties his people faced. After tea and discussion, he oversaw the distribution of 40 boxes of humanitarian supplies and toys to his villagers.
The children of Ankawa excitedly gathered around Sheik Mohammad as he passed out dolls, stuffed animals, and toy cars from Utahns. Meanwhile, their parents formed a separate line to receive shoes, clothes, food, and hygiene items. The excitement was very apparent on everyone's face, as thousands of dollars worth of goods were donated to needy villagers. Staff Sgt. Kenneth Davisson of Preston, Idaho said that his favorite moment was when a young child ran up to the Sheik's house with bare feet. Sgt. Davisson searched through the shoes and found a perfect size for the boy and sent him on his way smiling with a brand new pair of shoes on his feet. "It was such a treat to be able to give this young boy a pair of shoes, since he didn't have any," said Sgt. Davisson.
Soldiers from the 116th really enjoyed being able to participate in the mission, especially since the villagers were in such need of the goods. Sgt. Leallen Blackhair of Fort Duchesne said that, "It was a real good experience to see that the items we handed out were going directly to people who really needed them." Also, there was a special Utah connection on this mission, since the donated items came from Utah. Master Sgt. Tanner explained, "It was special for our soldiers because we got to distribute the goods that Utahns had sent, and that made it more personal."
Lt. Taylor, the mission commander, explained that this mission "will go a long way towards improving the image of United States and Coalition forces in the area." "Ultimately," he said, "we have to show the Iraqis that we are here to help them transition to a democratic government, so that we can leave once they are ready." He also said the following to the generous Utahns who donated the items: "we really appreciate your generosity, and so do the hundreds of local villagers we were able to help; I want you to know you put smiles on the faces of the Iraqi people today."
The donated items came from the Feed Uncle SAM drive that was directed by Jennie Taylor and that took place during Fall 2007 and collected more than $75,000 worth of items from across Utah. The donations from Feed Uncle SAM were used to send all 700 plus Utah National Guardsmen a care package at Christmas and to send humanitarian items to the major Utah units for distribution in Iraq.