By Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2008 - More than 100 Iraqi families showed up to receive diapers, formula and cereal at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex Civil Military Operations Center, about seven kilometers southwest of Baghdad, May 31. "Rakkasan" soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team distributed two packages of disposable diapers, two cans of powdered formula and two cans of cereal mix for each child 3 years and younger. More than 180 children received assistance.
The soldiers began the initiative to reach out to Iraqi women in February. A series of meetings with professional Iraqi women and visits to women from different areas in the Mahmudiyah area revealed their needs, officials said.
"We've had several trips to [a local] clinic, and that's how we came up with the idea," said Army Capt. Martrell Gamble, the brigade's women's initiatives officer in charge. "A lot of the patients were asking us for milk and diapers."
Bulk funds were used to purchase 1,000 of each item for distribution. Arabic flyers were posted in the Radwaniyah area to inform residents about the handout.
When families arrived for the distribution, some babies wore fabric fragments in lieu of diapers, while some wore nothing at all.
Formula, cereal and diapers won't resolve the issues Iraqis face in improving the overall state of Iraq, but it is another tool to assist them while they begin to stand on their feet, officials said.
"I think it's a big help for the people, ... because they said it's expensive and they cannot [afford] it," said Parween Mohammed, bilingual, bicultural advisor with the Rakkasans. Mohammed said it makes her happy to see the gratitude on the faces of the parents who received the items.
"We don't have anything," said Rabia Ahmed, a mother of five whose family depends on unreliable day labor for its income. "I am so happy for this. God bless and protect you all."
Hamdia Ibrahim and her husband have eight children, ages 1 through 23. No one in the family currently works. She said the formula offers a brief reprieve. She breast-feeds the younger children, since she can't afford formula.
Gamble, from Landover, Md., said she is planning a distribution at the Mahmudiyah Civil Military Operations Center and at Patrol Base Dragon later in the summer.
"At the end of the day, we may not be able to change the entire culture. But if we're able to help a handful of families here and there, that's a lasting impression," said Army 1st Lt. Heather Wilson of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade.
One of the primary goals of the women's initiatives programs is to better understand the women of Iraq, while generating ideas to help them achieve personal and professional goals. To that end, the Rakkasans are working to get approval for a sewing center in one of the buildings on the Ready Made Clothing Co. compound in Mahmudiyah. The center would provide training and generate long-term employment for hundreds of Iraqi women.
Wilson, a resident of Lusby, Md., has been involved with the Rakkasans' women's initiatives since the effort's inception. She said she is motivated by the enthusiasm the Iraqi women have for improving their condition.
"You can tell how much they want change by how much they're willing to work with us, how excited they get about these programs," Wilson said. "Their cooperation is so impressive. ... I think this is more impactful and better for the country than anything else we can do."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy serves in the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)