Extra space on planes used for goods for Iraqi kids
November 21, 2004
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — Col. Bradly MacNealy hates empty space.
That’s why he initiated a space-available program to ferry troops around Iraq if there is a seat aboard any aircraft of the Task Force 185th Aviation, which he commands.
And that’s why these same birds carry school supplies donated through Operation Iraqi Children to units far and wide for distribution to local schools.
“If we have empty space on our aircraft, we’re doing something wrong,” MacNealy said.
He is especially proud of the task force’s effort to get the school supplies to Iraq children, but worried that the effort will end when his troops leave soon.
Supplies donated to the charity founded by actor Gary Sinise were getting only to Kuwait, where they languished. The 185th Task Force took on the job of distributing them throughout the country, getting them one step closer to their intended recipients.
The two groups came together through the family support group for the 185th Aviation Brigade of the Mississippi National Guard. The support group had collected a colossal amount of school supplies of its own to send, including 8,000 backpacks stuffed with items for young students.
It approached FedEx to help deliver the goods overseas. FedEx already was helping Operation Iraqi Children, but was frustrated because the gear was stuck in Kuwait. It wondered if the brigade could help.
“We said, ‘Well, we’ll give it a try,’” MacNealy said.
The brigade already had a secret weapon in this effort. Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeffery Smith, who works in Kuwait for the brigade’s rear detachment to send aircraft parts north, had established relationships with Air Force and Army logistics people. He began seeking space for the idle school supplies for Operation Iraqi Children.
In August, it began arriving at Logistics Support Area Anaconda in the form of large, towering pallets that included such things as notebooks and soccer balls.
Capt. Stacey Cetin coordinates delivery of the supplies to units throughout Iraq that want to help out a nearby school. If there is room aboard the brigade’s CH-47 Chinooks, C-23 Sherpas or UH-60 Black Hawks, the supplies are loaded.
“It goes space available,” she said. “Mission comes first. Beans and bullets come first.”
Flying crews soon got into the act. They have begun figuring out how a brief detour can drop off goods somewhere without harming the mission.
Soon, Cetin’s phone began ringing. E-mails began arriving. Soldiers, airmen and Marines all wanted supplies sent to them.
“They’re very thankful,” she said of the units that receive the school supplies. “They’re also saying, ‘Can you put us back on the list again?’”
MacNealy said about three deliveries are being made each day by his aircraft. In all, the brigade has received and delivered 800 pallets of supplies since it began this effort.
MacNealy and Cetin are concerned that when their tour concludes at the end of December, the supplies might languish again in a Kuwaiti warehouse.
“We’re hoping the unit that comes in to replace us picks it up,” MacNealy said. “If we weren’t doing this, that warehouse in Kuwait would be filling up.”
The effort is more than a sidelight to the goal of the entire operation, the commander said. It is providing help to the people of Iraq, showing them that America is here to help, not to occupy.
In that way, he said, it is a direct part of the war effort.
“And it’s not paid for by the government,” he said of the supplies. “These are civilians donating to the cause that is helping us win over here.”