Kentucky Army National Guard unit helps widows and children

Staff Sgt. Travis Dugan, 2nd Platoon, PSD, 301st Chemical Company, makes sure he shook every hand of the dozens of children who came to receive clothing, food and toys. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Fernando Ochoa, 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment)

December 17, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: David Altom, 502-607-1562, cell 502-229-3227

By Sgt. Fernando Ochoa, 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Now that the Christmas season is upon us, the gift of giving was given by the National Guard’s 301st Chemical Company, 2nd Platoon, Personal Security Detail (PSD), from Maysville, Kentucky. With their own funds, they delivered food, toys and clothes to the Dar Al Salem widow’s camp, in the Kadhimiya District of Baghdad.

The 301st has the primary mission of being the PSD for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), but on this day they went above and beyond the call of duty to carry out a humanitarian mission. They went into the Red Zone to deliver much needed supplies to the less fortunate.

“I have a bitter sweet feeling about this camp and I wish circumstances like these didn’t exist,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Dugan, 34, from Maysville, Ky. “I just feel grateful that I can bring a smile to these deserving faces.”

From Forward Operating Base Prosperity, the 301st drove their MRAP convoy through a high risk district, where recent bombings have left hundreds dead. Weaving in and out of traffic, the gunners kept lookout for any unusual behaviour.

The Dar Al Salem widow’s camp is refuge to as many as 150 families. Established more than two years ago, it takes in women and children of Soldiers and Policemen who have been killed or kidnapped, never to be seen again.

The violence that has rocked Iraq for almost two decades has left these widows the burden of running the families. The struggle to survive and support their families is enormous at a time when not much help comes from the international community. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs,it is estimated that there are at least 300,000 widows in Baghdad alone.

“I feel like I’m a small part of something bigger,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathon Smith, 31, convoy commander, from Flemingsburg, Ky. “Maybe if everyone does their part, then we may be able to accomplish our mission.” Many members of the 301st feel the same way. “I hope the Iraqis use our example to do their part too,” said Smith.

As the convoy pulled into the small complex of prefabricated housing, the children came running up to the Soldiers. With smiles on their faces, laughs and giggles filled the air with excitement. After the Soldiers went into security mode, the crowd of children began to make lines in anticipation of the gifts that had arrived.

Soldiers like Spec. John Wayne Hall began to greet the children, showing them attention and compassion, and trying help as much as he could.

“Once we realized that we were coming, we gathered up everything we could,” said Hall. “When we help these people we help ourselves and if we have to give of ourselves, then count me in.”

When it came time to hand out the gifts, a surge of children came forward and began grabbing and carrying away the toys, clothing and food. The sparse conditions in this refugee camp have made its inhabitants weary and deserving of this mission. At times, there is no water and electricity, and many of the widows have no income at all. These conditions moved many of the Soldiers.

“When I see these kids and how they have to struggle, I try not to get emotional,” said Spec. Kelly Goode, 39, from Louisville, KY. “I have kids at home and when I look into these children eyes I see my own.”

Soccer balls were the hot item. In fact, Staff Sgt. Smith held one until the end so that he could give it to the winner of a relay race. And, the winner of the race had the biggest smile of all. The mission was a success and as the MRAP convoy pulled way, the Soldiers of the 301st felt a sense of accomplishment. They hope to have more missions like this one.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 12,000 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have deployed in support of Global War of Terror. The Kentucky National Guard currently has nearly 350 troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the globe.

Spec. John Wayne Hall, 2nd Platoon, PSD, 301st Chemical Company, holds one of the dozens of children who received humanitarian aid at the Dar Al Salem widow's camp. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Fernando Ochoa, 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment)

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