By Army Staff Sgt. Alex Licea
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 17, 2009 - A month after a Colorado boy collected his toys and sent them to Iraq, a group of U.S. Army paratroopers distributed the items to children in an eastern Baghdad neighborhood yesterday. Army Spc. Greg Moreland, 25, a native of Hershey, Pa., received the toys from his pen pal, Jacob Poehls, 8, of Summit Cove, Colo.
Jacob "adopted" Moreland as a pen pal several weeks ago through the www.adoptaussoldier.org Web site. The two have become fast friends and have been exchanging e-mails regularly. Moreland said he looks forward to his e-mails from Jacob.
"It's great to see that there are people like Jacob who care about others and want to make a difference in people's lives, even if they are thousands of miles away," he said.
Moreland, however, is not Jacob's first uniformed pen pal.
Several months ago, Jacob adopted Marine Gunnery Sgt. Baltazar Pineda, who was deployed to Iraq at the time. The two became great friends, and Pineda encouraged Jacob, a special needs student, to improve in school. Their strong friendship was well-documented when the boy and his mother, Nora Hall, made an appearance on NBC's "Today Show" last month. Pineda joined them live, via satellite, from an undisclosed location in Iraq.
When Pineda returned to the United States before the donated packages would arrive in Iraq, Jacob and his family decided to mail the packages to Moreland. On a breezy morning in Baghdad, Moreland made it a priority to complete this wish for Jacob and all of Summit Cove.
"The people of Summit Cove put a lot of time into organizing and collecting these items," Moreland said. "I made it a personal mission to fulfill this request and make sure these gifts were handed out to the Iraqi children."
Moreland, along with paratroopers assigned to the Airborne Division's Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, handed out the box full of stuffed animals, along with cookies and candy, to children at the Abuthare and Rufayda Elementary School.
The children gathered at the school's courtyard and eagerly waited as paratroopers gave the children the donated items.
Through the use of an interpreter, Moreland showed a picture of Jacob stuffing the box full of the toys to the school's headmaster and explained that the toys and treats were donated by Jacob and his classmates at Summit Cove Elementary School.
"Thank you, Jacob, and all the people of Colorado," Nanah Almohsen said. "It's great to see that the children in America care about the children of Iraq. We are very grateful for this."
Moreland and fellow Fort Bragg, N.C.-based paratroopers then walked into each classroom and gave each child a handful of candy.
After returning from his mission, Moreland got on his computer and e-mailed Jacob. Despite going on 18 hours with no sleep due to working the evening shift, Moreland said it was important for him to tell Jacob how his day went and that the toys were appreciated by the children.
"I felt I had to share this special day with Jacob, and I couldn't wait to tell him," he said. "I want him to know that his donation is something these children will never forget."
Moreland said the experience of distributing the items and talking to the children will be with him for the rest of his life.
"This day will be with me forever," he said. "I can't wait to tell this story to my family back home and show them the pictures."
(Army Staff Sgt. Alex Licea serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.)