Staff Sgt. Shawn Morris
50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
BAGHDAD - Life in the International Zone got a little warmer and fuzzier when members of the Joint Area Support Group - Central Security Forces donated stuffed animals and school supplies to students at the Al-Watan elementary school, locatd in the Quadisiya area, Oct. 8, 2008.
"We had over 150 stuffed animals of all sizes, and several boxes of school supplies such as pencils, paper, and notebooks," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Russell Love from Montgomery, Ala. and a member of the IZ police who coordinated the donation.
"It's a blessing that we're able to come in to their school and give them things we have that they're not as fortunate to have," he added.
Love and his crew made their way throughout the two-story school, distributing age-appropriate goodies in several classrooms under the guidance of school officials. Both kids and service members seemed to benefit from the spirit of giving.
"It pretty much feels like Christmas," explained Airman 1st Class Peggy Dunkley of New York City, who has eight brothers, three sisters, four nephews and a niece back home and is normally stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
"It's giving them another reason to smile. They have beautiful smiles," she added.
There were plenty of smiles to go around, as the children showed their gifts to one another and thanked the service members with hand waves and hugs.
"To be part of what we do on the ground is incredible; to be able to help out the little ones – the kids," said Love, who is out of Hickam Air Force Base, has been serving in Iraq since June.
"It's an awesome feeling," he added.
The IZ police officers are no strangers to donating to the community. On several occasions, they have pooled their resources to help victims of house fires, Love explained.
He also noted that donating items is not the only interaction he and his fellow IZ police officers have with these children.
"We patrol these areas at night wearing full battle rattle," he said. The school is located in what is commonly referred to as the "Area 215 Apartments."
While the children will often joke and play with the patrolling officers, this event gave the kids a chance to see Love and his team bearing gifts instead of guns.
"It shows them that we're not only here to protect them," said Dunkley.
As for future donations to the Al-Watan school, Love would like to continue to give for as long as possible.
"We plan on doing as much as we can," he said. "As long as we've got teams here, we can donate."