Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 17, 2007 - Fifteen Iraqi children can now get around a little easier, thanks to the new wheelchairs they received at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex Civil-Military Operations Center earlier this month. Medics from 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), assembled the chairs that were donated by an organization called Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids.
The wheelchairs were given to disabled children who 1-33rd Cavalry Regiment soldiers encountered while conducting patrols Dec. 13. Company A, 478th Civil Affairs Company, 3rd Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to 1-33rd Cavalry Regiment, coordinated transportation and helped fit the children with the chairs at the Civil-Military Operations Center.
"I can't imagine what it must be like having to carry your child around from place to place," said Army Dr. (Capt.) James Phillips, 1-33rd Cavalry Regiment battalion surgeon. "I'm just glad we were able to do something to help."
Some of the children's conditions have yet to be officially diagnosed, but they all require assistance getting around. Without sufficient medical care and no means to get necessary help, the wheelchair donations were a blessing to the families of these handicapped children.
Phillips said it was a little heartbreaking to see children who, in some cases, were teenagers and just getting their first wheelchairs, but he was glad to see their quality of life improve.
"This is a great feeling that you help our kids," said Ihsaa Hadi, whose 13-year-old son received a wheelchair. Hadi had a hard time expressing his gratitude and said he hadn't realized the U.S. Army could help him like this.
Noor Mustafa, 7, has limited use of her legs. She was orphaned when her parents passed away and is now in the care of her aunt. "It's a wonderful feeling to have the wheelchair," said Madoor, Noor's aunt. "I always have to carry her from place to place; now I have this wheelchair."
While giving handicapped children a means to get around may seem like a reward in itself, the founder of "Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids," Brad Blauser, said it's also a means of supporting the troops on the ground. "I can't provide a wheelchair for every child in Iraq, but I encourage the Army to use these for their strategic advantage ... to win the hearts and minds of the people who will help (them) the most."
In 2005, he helped get wheelchairs sent to the Mosul area and said it resulted in fewer attacks on U.S. soldiers operating in the area.
"If you help an adult, their family really appreciates it," said Blauser, from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. "If you help a small child, it touches the heart of the whole community."
Two years ago, Blauser had people sending care packages and study Bibles for deployed troops, but they wanted to do more. He went to a friend and asked how people could do more. "Wheelchairs for children; we see a lot of children ... who drag themselves on the ground," was his friend's reply.
The friend, then-Maj. David Brown, had watched an Iraqi boy struggle with a wheelchair that was too big and therefore useless to him. "He wanted to be able to help the boy but he didn't know how," Blauser said. "I put an e-mail out, and within 30 days we had 31 kids' wheelchairs on the ground."
With that, Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids was born. "Wheels for the World," "Wheels of Love" and "Reach Out and Care Wheels," along with individual contributors, are responsible for the success of Blauser's brainchild.
The chairs handed out Dec. 13 were sent by www.ROCwheels.org, an organization that makes specialty high-quality pediatric wheelchairs designed for use in developing nations.
Blauser, who is the KBR theater safety manager for Leir Seigler Inc., has been in Iraq for three years, and he says his work here is not done. To date, he has been the impetus for 250 wheelchairs, 4,500 study Bibles and 1,500 care packages that have been sent to Iraq.
Realizing that he won't be in Iraq forever, Blauser said he wants to continue supporting the troops any way he can; the wheelchairs are just one avenue. "There is so much good that could be done here, I honestly don't know how I can go home," he said.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy is assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.)