By Norris Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 20, 2009 - When Maj. Robert Kirkpatrick, an Army reservist here, answered the requests of friends and co-workers back home in Illinois about what they could send him during his deployment, his thoughts went to the children living near here in southern Iraq. Kirkpatrick, a member of the 416th Theater Engineer Command based in Darien, Ill., said he received numerous e-mails from home asking what he needs since he deployed in November. He suggested sending toys that he and others with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could deliver to neighboring Iraqi schools.
Kirkpatrick's friends and co-workers at Aux Sable Liquid Products in Channahon, Ill., where he is a senior product engineer, responded by sending him a couple of large boxes containing "a great variety of nice toys," including cars, dolls, stuffed animals, a big fire engine, colorful sleeping bags, pillows and a CD player, he said.
"It's a great company to work for, and they've been very supportive of my deployment here," noted Kirkpatrick, who has 23 years of military service.
About 30 Iraqi students from Nasiriyah's Mama Suna Primary School arrived at the Corp's Gulf Region South headquarters beaming with huge smiles. The children held flowers, which they presented to the Americans who greeted them. They sang a song in English that started, "Father, mother, I am sick – get the doctor quick, quick, quick," recited their ABCs, and then sang a song in Arabic.
The Gulf Region South staff greeted the youngsters alongside members of the 3rd Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery, from Fort Bliss, Texas, and the 445th Civil Affairs from Mountain View, Calif. They grilled hamburgers, served pizza, played games with the children and then presented each child with a toy, a soccer ball and a book bag filled with school supplies.
Kirkpatrick, an operations officer, said he joined the Army to get more focused on his future. "I went from being a poor high school student to being a much better college student after three years [of] active duty," he said.
He later joined the National Guard and then switched to the Army reserve. In the past two decades, he has seen much of the world, including Panama, El Salvador and Germany. This is his third tour to Iraq in the past five years.
"Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a great assignment," he said. "We have an important mission. Things are improving here, and you can see that the Iraqis are on the right path. It's encouraging."
Those improvements are due in large part to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing more than 130 construction projects in Iraq's nine southern provinces. The projects include new schools, hospitals, courthouses, roads, bridges and new water treatment facilities that in some cases are providing communities with access to clean water for the first time ever.
Besides feeling good about his work, Kirkpatrick said, his deployment has been made easier by the support of loved ones back home.
"I've had great support from my family, friends, and co-workers in Illinois since deploying in November," he said. "Through phone calls, emails, and letters, we're able to stay in touch. They've all stepped up and are helping fill in for me stateside so I can concentrate on my duties here. I sincerely appreciate all they do."
(Norris Jones works in the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South district's public affairs office.)