By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Les Newport
Indiana National Guard
YETHRIB, Iraq - Martinsville resident, Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Phillips, wanted to do one thing before he left Iraq. The Indiana National Guard Soldier got his way when an active duty unit, the 2-320tht Field Artillery Regiment, got him and his supervisor, Lt. Col. John Silva, a ride on a civil military affairs mission to Yethrib, Iraq.
Family and friends of the Soldiers in Indiana had sent them gifts for the children of Iraq: schools supplies, medical supplies, and toys including more than three hundred soccer balls. Silva's daughter Jessica, a seventh-grader at Center Grove Middle School North, coordinated donations from the school, the Center Grove Soccer Club and Center Grove Presbyterian Church.
Phillips and Silva could have just given the gifts to the 2-320th, but they wanted to give them in person. The lift came just in time as the two prepare to return from a year-long deployment.
"To see their expression, to see what their daily lives are like," said Phillips. "I want to better understand them."
Phillips also wanted to let them know that there are people in America, and especially in Indiana, who care about them.
Phillips works closely with adult Iraqis everyday at Joint Base Balad where the engineer has helped them establish locally owned businesses on the perimeter of the logistical installation. Phillips has come to know many of them as close friends.
"They have children and grandchildren and babies on the way. Family is everything to them, the absolutely most important thing to them," said Phillips.
Phillips and Silva will return with 76th Infantry Brigade in the next month, and like the rest of the brigade they are ready to go home. But Phillips says he has probably learned more than he thought he would.
"Whenever you work closely with someone, get close to someone, I guess it takes some of the fears away, the fear of what's to come," said Phillips. "I hope they can get on their feet, and they can learn to co-exist. We've got issues in the United States, but we get along for the most part. I think [the Iraqis are] starting to. I think they can do it too."
Silva says they probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity if Hoosiers hadn't sent the gifts. "I can't thank them enough, all the churches and schools. And I have a message from the kids," said Silva: "They say Shokran [thank you] too."