By Master Sgt. Brian Davidson
447th Air Expeditionary Group
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi children living at the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad received a surprise visit from "Papa Noel" Dec. 19 thanks to the Airmen from Sather Air Base.
The event was sponsored by the 447th Air Expeditionary Group Rising Six Council, a group of men and women in the ranks of Airmen through technical sergeant, and is just one of many humanitarian and reconstruction initiatives offered to local Iraqi families by Airmen and Soldiers from throughout the Victory Base Complex.
Before Papa Noel's arrival, Iraqi children held a brief ceremony and presented a special plaque to Maj. Gen David Clary, commemorating the bond of friendship that has grown between the local community and American troops. General Clary is the director of the Air Component Coordination Element for Multi-National Force-Iraq and the commander, Detachment 2, 9th Air Expeditionary Task Force.
General Clary spoke to the children about the Airmen who are working to help build a free and safe Iraq. "You may hear many things about the Americans who are here in your country, and the news on television and in newspapers may not always have stories that show what we are really doing here," the general said. "But look around you, look at the things you see them doing and think about the time you have spent with them and make you own decision about who they are and why they are here. These people represent what America is all about."
After the presentation, a fire truck from the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron arrived bringing Papa Noel, played by Staff Sgt. Michael Murphy from the 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. Sergeant Murphy played the part complete with a red suit, long white beard and a sack full of gifts.
The younger children took turns sitting with Papa Noel to receive their gift while the older children and Airmen went out to the soccer field.
The holiday visit and the on-going volunteer effort by the Rising Six Council is part of an initiative called the Good Neighbor Program, and has included the repair of homes, donations of clothing, blankets, shoes and basic medical and hygiene supplies, construction of play areas and soccer fields and even the repair of homes.
Staff Sgt. Vanessa Peddicord, 447th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, serves as the Good Neighbor Program director and the liaison with Iraqi officials to coordinate projects and visits.
"The whole program is designed so we have a chance to interact with Iraqi military members and their families and to help us learn more about each other," Sergeant Peddicord said. "We have become very close to many of our neighbors and it reminds us why we are really here."
Sergeant Peddicord explained that all of the humanitarian supplies come from the families of deployed members back home, and even shipping costs are paid out-of-pocket.
The Airmen use off-duty time to sort and deliver supplies and participate in reconstruction projects.
"The time we spend with the children, ant the things we do has an impact on them individually," Sergeant Peddicord said. "One day these children will be the adults in position of authority, and we're doing what we can to make their lives a little better along the way."
This work, Sather Airmen bring holiday cheer to Iraqi children, aid to families, by MSgt Brian Davidson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.