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    Operation Flip-Flop: the legacy shall live on at JBB

    Operation Flip-Flop: the legacy shall live on at JBB

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Keeler | All of the more than 200 Iraqi Children that attended Iraqi Kids Day May 28 received a...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Matthew Keeler 

    109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    By: Spc. Matthew Keeler

    JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – With a smile, Spc. John Romansky, the creator of Operation Flip-Flop, handed out perhaps his last pair of flip-flops to Iraqi children in the crowded Morale, Welfare, and Recreation building. More than 200 Iraqi children took part in Iraqi Kids Day, a day where local children are invited onto Joint Base Balad, Iraq, to plays games and interact with service members.

    “Operation Flip-Flop was started back in September when my company was out at a bridge site and we noticed a lot of children walking around with no shoes on,” said Romansky, a combat engineer with the 299th Multi-Role Bridge Company, 20th Engineer Brigade, and a Rochester, N.Y., native. “So, after the mission, I got back home and Skyped my mother who is a teacher at Northwood Elementary and told her about children that we had seen."

    This was just the beginning as one sixth-grade teacher overheard the conversation between Romansky and his mother and wanted to donate, he said. It was the first donation to OFF, but certainly not the last.

    “In one month, they raised over 500 pairs of flip-flops and sent them here to us,” he said. “We started Operation Flip-Flop in September, and our first Iraqi Kids Day was in October, and we have been doing it every month since then.”

    It has been through affiliation and support of both the Air Force and the Army, who hold Iraqi Kids Day at JBB, that has allowed OFF to hand out numerous pairs of flip-flops every month to Iraqi children.

    After that first Iraqi Kids Day, Romansky talked to his battle buddy, Pfc. Andrew Kuhn, also a combat engineer with the 299th Multi-Role Bridge Company, and a Bristol, N.Y., native, who was interested to help the cause.

    “It was a simple idea of helping the kids of this country to be better off,” Kuhn said. “I was really excited to get involved with this and be able to help beyond our deployment."

    Kuhn then took the idea to his girlfriend, Courtney Payne, a sophomore student at State University of New York in Geneseo, N.Y. Payne took the idea a step farther by creating a Facebook group to help jumpstart the process and get the information to her friends and family.

    Since starting the group, Payne has collected more than 150 pairs of sandals and donated them to OFF, Kuhn said. The donations have only just begun with Payne; the rest of his family has also started to collect sandals for OFF.

    “My mother, Arloween Corwin, has played a huge role in spreading the word of Operation Flip-Flop,” said Kuhn. “She has started a drive to collect for OFF and already donating the money in buying about 200 pairs of sandals for the kids over here.”

    What really surprised Kuhn was just how far the kindness and motivation for the children of Iraq spread across New York and the rest of the country.

    “A lot of the flip-flops, they come from Hilton, N.Y., where Spc. Romansky’s mother teaches,” Kuhn said. “A lot of these flip-flops right here, we got boxes of hundreds that come from [State University of New York at Geneseo] where my girlfriend and her whole entire college did a [fundraiser]; Romulus, N.Y., held a walk where they raised over $800; local towns in Syracuse did tons of fund drives; the [Veterans of Foreign War] in Hanoi, N.Y., the town of Hanoi, N.Y., did drives; and as you can see the kids just love it. They really go crazy.”

    For a number of the children, the clothes that they wear are the best that they have, and even then they are a bit old and worn, he said.

    “A lot of times we will find old shoes thrown under the table from kids that are just worn out,” Kuhn said. “They don’t get the new flip flops like we are used to, and it is really rewarding helping kids that really need it.”

    Some of these children grab a couple of pairs of flip flops for not only themselves but for their brothers, sisters and even parents, he said. For Romanksy, what was great was going back on leave and seeing the sixth-grade class that helped start it all.

    “The look on their faces to know that they could make a difference from a little town, Hilton, N.Y., to send flip-flops 7,000 miles away and help children in Iraq, it really encouraged them,” he said.

    Not only were we helping children here, but back home too, he said.

    With Kuhn, and Romansky’s unit ending their tour here in Iraq, there was a chance that they were going to miss their last Iraqi Kids Day.

    “This being my last event in country, they flew us up from [Camp] Taji, and we are here to help hand out the last set of flip-flops,” Romansky said. “And, what is great about this is that we showed up and they were already set up. It’s like our own little [replacement] mission, and the transition has been great, and I think it is going to continue.”

    By making contacts with the Red Cross on JBB via email, Romansky made sure that there would be volunteers at Iraqi Kids Day to provide the children with flip-flops.

    “We have made great contacts with the Red Cross, so we have been in contact with them via email, and we knew that if we couldn’t show up that they would be here,” he said.

    “I was a bit surprised to see how many people were working on it and the enthusiasm,” he said. From the support of the Army and the Air Force, Romansky has no doubt that OFF will continue after they leave.

    Even as Romansky prepares to go home, he will miss his time spent in Iraq and at Iraqi Kids Day.

    “You want to go home in the worst way,” he said. “And it is kind of sad, bittersweet, but we know [OFF] will continue and it will be a great legacy.”

    In the end, Romansky and Kuhn wanted to thank everyone who made OFF possible.

    “I would like to thank the children from the sixth grade class….and every other school that has sent flip-flops over here, you really make a difference,” Romansky said. “And you can make a difference. One person can make a difference around the world.”

    Everyone back home, thank you, and we will see you soon, he said.



    Date Taken: 06.04.2011
    Date Posted: 06.05.2011 03:27
    Story ID: 71607
    Location: JOINT BASE BALAD, IQ 

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