US Soldiers Risk Death to Gain Smiles From Iraqi Children

By Jered Ede | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(Editor's note: U.S. soldiers were handing out candy to children in southeastern Baghdad on Wednesday when a car bomb blew up near the U.S. Humvee, killing about two dozen people - most of them children. At least one American soldier also died in the suicide attack.)

( - Far from their Wisconsin and Tennessee homes, members of the U.S. Army National Guard say that no matter where they go in Iraq, their delivery of humanitarian aid produces smiles on the faces of children. It also ratchets up the daily threat of sudden death from car bombers determined to stop the aid.

Task force 1-128, composed of sections of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and the 3rd Battalion, 278th Infantry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard, has been in Iraq since late 2004. The group is based in Samarra, Iraq, 125 kilometers north of Baghdad, and has distributed supplies to the villages of Albouhaswa, Ahmed Hajam and Ja'afaral Jalaby.

Recently, Specialist Charles Kaufman, from Fairchild, Wis., was killed by a car bomb while driving his Humvee.

Yet, members of 1-128 are encouraged by the response to their request for humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people. Within weeks of their request, the 1-128 had been deluged with boxes of supplies and aid from U.S. churches, organizations like the Boy Scouts and from other overseas military bases.

A Defend America article quoted Sgt. Edward Johnson of the 128th Regiment, explaining how assistance had come from familiar organizations but in far-flung places.

"The Boy Scouts of Japan sent us more than 40 boxes of school supplies ... [another] in Wisconsin, without us even asking, sent 40 or 50 boxes of brand new shoes, backpacks, school supplies and so on," Johnson reportedly said.

"The response to our requests was overwhelming," Johnson told Cybercast News Service. Within months, their stockpile of supplies had swelled to over 2,000 pounds of school supplies, shoes, toys, toiletries and children's clothing.

The original mission of the 1-128 was to secure the Iraqi region in which they were operating, obtain human intelligence and report on criminal activity. But the commander allowed the soldiers to "dedicate portions of our patrol for the specific purpose of helping to improve the local infrastructure and distributing the humanitarian aid collected by members of our platoon," according to Johnson.

What followed was a full-fledged humanitarian effort in support of the surrounding communities, many of which, Johnson explained, include struggling farmers "genuinely excited about the prospect of developing their young democracy."

According to the Defend America article, that humanitarian mission is only a quarter of the way toward completion. "More than 60 boxes of goods," including shoes, clothes and school supplies, have already been distributed, but there is much more to come.

Pvt. Adam Rodriguez, who is from Johnson's unit, explained that seeing "kids running around with no shoes" is disheartening. "It's stuff you never see at home, so it feels good to help them out.

"Like many of the men in our unit, I left behind a wife and three young boys," Johnson told Cybercast News Service. "As much as I miss my family, I also know that their future security depends on our ability to stay the course in Iraq. ... I am very proud to be a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom III."

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