News: Stuffed Animals for Iraqi Children
By Capt. Randy Schultz
937th Company Commander
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – With improvised explosive device attacks at record lows inside of Al Anbar province, the Soldiers and Non-commissioned Officers of the 937th Clearance Company 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, are finding other ways to make an impact while deployed.
Assigned the task of providing route clearance support for the bulk of Al Anbar province, the 937th's engineers are constantly on the road scanning for IEDs through six-inch thick bulletproof glass during the hours of darkness. On a normal mission this gives them very little time to interact with the Iraqi population. One non-commissioned officer, however, has found a way to still interact despite these constraints.
Staff Sergeant Mylin White, from Caldwell Idaho, a squad leader in the company's fifth platoon, has determined that he will leave a positive mark on Iraq before he redeploys back to the United States. His plan is to hand out as many stuffed animals, toys, and pieces of candy as possible to the Iraqi children his platoon sees along the road as they patrol. As Staff Sergeant White sees it, each one of these children "will remember the U.S. Soldier that was kind to them, and this will affect their opinion of us for the rest of their life."
Staff Sergeant White's initial plan involved handing out a handful of inherited soccer balls from the previous unit. He would take a handful of balls out on route clearance missions and hand them out to children as his platoon moved through the towns of eastern Al Anbar. After his first few attempts he soon realized that the older children were quickly taking possession of them from the younger children that they were intended for. Staff Sergeant White's answer to this problem was to hand out gifts that only the younger children would want. He figured that only the youngest of children would want stuffed teddy bears and rabbits. This new tactic met with great success and soon Staff Sergeant White went through the process of collecting more stuffed animals.
His wife was able to send a box from home filled with over fifty stuffed animals to get his collection started. This collection was augmented with individual toys and stuffed animals from care packages that other Soldiers had received. Stateside wasn't the only source of animals; one of Staff Sergeant White's Marine neighbors stopped him and offered to help after asking why he was always carrying toys around. With another fifty animals collected from residents of Camp Fallujah, Staff Sergeant White has given out over 150 stuffed animals and 75 soccer balls since the 937th Clearance Company arrived in early May.
Though handing these tokens of goodwill out serves a practical purpose, Staff Sergeant White also receives a personal reward as well. His main motivation is to "see the smiles on the kid's faces," and is derived from the first experience he had handing one of his stuffed animals out to a child. Staff Sergeant White approached a five-year old boy in an area north of Fallujah and presented him with a stuffed animal. The boy's "eyes got really big, he kissed it, hugged it and then ran to his house." Hopefully moments like these will have just as large an impact on the Iraqi children and help raise a generation with an open-minded view of the American Soldier.