A big Softy makes a big impact with Iraqi kids
October 24, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. Army Maj. Gregg Softy wasn’t expecting much when he e-mailed a few friends asking for some supplies for the beaten and battered schools in Iraq.
A few boxes of pens and pencils, notebooks and chalk was what he was hoping for. Now, the operations officer with the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment receives up to 100 boxes of school supplies every day, from Americans he has never met.
“We are up to about a ton a day coming in,” said Softy, 37, whose children, Shea, 13, and Brennan, 11, are in Büdingen, Germany, with their mother, Mary.
So big has the effort become that it even caught the attention of the White House. Softy was mentioned in President Bush’s radio address to the nation on Saturday.
“That was a surprise,” Softy said on Monday after a ceremony that opened a school in the Baghdad neighborhood of Farat. He said he learned about it when he opened up his e-mail to find several messages telling him of the president’s address.
Two things took Softy’s effort from the routine to the stratospheric. For one, some of the people he originally contacted created a Web site to further the cause. It can be found at www.iraqischools.com and is getting hundreds of hits daily. It includes Softy’s address for mailing supplies.
The second fuse for Softy’s idea was a report on CNN about the major and the Web site, which aired on Oct. 1.
“We had hundreds [of hits] within minutes of that story coming out,” he said.
Even though he is amazed at the amount of supplies Americans have donated, he’s also decided that the effort is a growth market.
“We’re up in the ballpark of 16,000 pounds right now,” he said. “And I don’t think we’ve begun to scratch the surface.”
The troops distribute the supplies to the schools while they are on patrol.
When the boxes arrive, Softy and some soldiers go through them to make sure everything is appropriate for school children. They also remove the notes that are often enclosed. Softy said everyone who donates will get a personal reply.
A new effort also has been launched. People can adopt an entire school.
“I have one gentleman who adopted the school around the corner and just bought 700 of everything — notebooks, pencils, glue,” Softy said.
Softy said the initial effort was begun to help the students, but also to help the soldiers, who wanted to do more than just patrol the streets.
“It’s frustrating to want to help and not be able to help,” he said.
Now he is impressed, he said, with the “power and the passion” of the people who donate, filling box after box with everything from chalk to chalkboards. One person sent 244 soccer balls.
“Americans just want to help,” he said.
Also, he said, the effort lets Americans know that Iraq is being made better. The suicide bombs and the shootouts and the deaths of soldiers rightfully get attention, he said.
“But for every one of those [stories],” he said, “there are 1,000 of these going on.”
In his Saturday radio address, President Bush spoke about U.S. military efforts to repair schools. In his speech, he mentioned Army Maj. Gregg Softy of the 1st Armored Division from Büdingen, Germany.
Here’s what the president said:
“Army Maj.Gregg Softy, of the 1st Armored Division, sent an e-mail to friends about Iraq schools. The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of packages were shipped, and a Web site was established to encourage other Americans to contribute.”
For a complete text of the Oct. 18 radio address, go to www.whitehouse.gov/news/radio/.