Civilian spearheads donations for Green Zone primary school
August 22, 2005
BAGHDAD — Robert Oney Pruett was on a towboat in Mississippi watching on television as the second of two airplanes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
After the initial shock wore off, he got “real mad.”
The then-50-year-old, 30-year veteran of the Corps of Engineers swore to himself that he would somehow do something to help.
Now, on his second rotation in Baghdad, Oney, as he is known to everyone on the Corps’ Gulf Region District compound in the International Zone, is still fulfilling his vow.
“I think this is worth it,” Pruett said of his second six-month stint in Iraq. “I feel like I’m helping to keep terrorism from my mother’s front door.”
As the postal clerk at the Gulf Region District, or GRD, Pruett plays a big part in the morale of servicemembers and civilians who work there. But he also schedules events to help Corps employees unwind at the end of their 10-hour shifts.
“He brings morale to many people by bringing them out of their trailers at night to socialize, rather than just sitting in their rooms,” said Byron Weichel, supply technician for the GRD. “Everyone here will remember him for his burn barrel (barbecue) parties.”
His good will stretches beyond the confines of the GRD compound, however.
Pruett is like a year-round Santa Claus to pupils of the Green Zone school. He has donated more than $2,000 of his own money over his two tours in Iraq to buy fans and school supplies.
“It’s not important how much money I spent,” Pruett said. “I’m not the only one doing this. A group called Operation Iraqi Children from Kansas City, Mo., ships some stuff to us for the school, and people from the Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley District have sent money and supplies.
“One guy sent a laptop for a teacher at the school to use. I’ve learned that Americans are the most generous people in the world.”
Other Corps employees helped Pruett deliver supplies to the school, box them up into individual packages and pass them out.
While his work to collect donations and supplies is done to benefit the school, Pruett said he hopes it has another effect, as well.
“These children in grades one through six are very impressionable,” he said. “They may have been taught that people wearing this uniform are bad, but they lose their preconceptions quickly and learn for themselves that it isn’t true.”
Although he is a civilian employee, he wears his desert battle dress uniform when he visits the school.
“These children are the future of this country,” he said. “They may not remember my name, but maybe in the future when they are politicians or whatever, they will remember that smiling American guy in the uniform who gave them stuff.”