News: Iraqis Celebrate Easter in the International Zone
Story by Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
The Easter bunny visited Iraq early this year, leaving colored eggs scattered about the International Zone, March 27, for dozens of Baghdad children to discover.
The event, hosted by the Joint Area Support Group-Central and 1st Cavalry Division, offered these children a chance to not only have fun with their families and coalition members, but also to safely celebrate the spring holiday at Freedom Rest, an Army recreational facility located within the confines of Forward Operating Base Freedom.
"This normally doesn't happen for them," explained Sgt. 1st Class Sandra McIntosh, Freedom Rest mayor attached to the 1st Cavalry Division. "We came together and decided to have this day for them so they could have something in their lives besides the war out there."
The "we" to whom McIntosh refers includes Capt. Eric Montoya, FOB Freedom mayor, 1st Sgt. Charley Keuscher, FOB Freedom deputy mayor, and Sgt. Maj. Israel Garcia, JASG-C Support Operations sergeant major.
"We wanted to do something for the kids again, similar to our Christmas event," explained Garcia. "We wanted to hold it at FOB Freedom, but since FOB Freedom is being turned over to the government of Iraq, there's really nothing there."
"We approached the Freedom Rest mayor, we pitched the idea, and she bought off on it," he added.
The children and their families made the most of Freedom Rest's amenities, playing soccer and Frisbee on open fields, swimming and diving in several pools, and hunting for the ever-elusive dyed eggs.
Having the chance to play with these children seemed to give service members all the reward they needed for the many hours they volunteered to set up and run the event.
"We're away from home, we don't get to interact with our kids, and so this is a really great thing; we get to play with them, have a little fun," said McIntosh.
"It's really great, because we work all day during the week and we don't get to interact with children like we do at home," added Sgt. Sara Vasquez, JASG-C Badging Section.
"I need a fix of children every once and a while, having seven at home," explained Lt. Col. Brian Scully, JASG-C chief of staff. "Just having the noise of children and children being around, it's therapeutic for me. The fact that we can interact with the children and actually be a part of their happiness is a very fulfilling experience."
Those involved also said they hoped events such as this would have a positive influence on these children as they grow to adulthood.
"I'm sure that when I leave here, these kids will always remember the Christmas event that we had for them, and they'll definitely remember this," said Garcia.
'They can always hear stories about Americans, but the stories can't replace their personal experiences," he continued. "No matter what people will tell them, if it's bad they can say, 'No, no, no — Americans are good; they're always willing to help.'"
"When you're dealing with children, you reach something that's common to all of us," said Scully. "It goes beyond our job description, it goes beyond the pay, and it strikes at something fundamentally important to each adult who is here."
"To take care of Iraqi children, it makes our separation from our own families worth it in a way," he continued, "because we're making a very positive difference in the future of this country by touching the lives of the children."
"Someday, these kids will be adults and they will know the difference we made here," he said.