MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In the midst of tsunami relief, not to be forgotten are the needy in Iraq.

A group of individuals hoping to form the first chartered Noncommissioned Officers Association, or NCOA, in Pacific Air Forces plan to kick off an Iraq charity drive Monday.

“It’s for Iraqi people in general. We’re looking for clothes, toys, any school supplies that people are willing to donate — used or new, as long as it’s in good condition,” said Staff Sgt. Larry Behrens, a 35th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter and the group’s acting president.

Boxes for donations will be placed at the post office, base exchange main entrance and the chapel starting Monday. Collections will be taken through Jan. 17.

Chief Master Sgt. Allen Thomas, NCOA trustee and superintendent of 35th Communications Squadron, said this is a good time to clean out the closet and give away clothes that don’t fit or aren’t wanted.

“If you want to put some soccer balls or something like that in there for the kids, that’s fine as well,” he said.

Contributions will be sent to Iraq via Military Postal Service.

The charity drive is the first NCOA event at Misawa. The group formed in December — the idea of deployed president Senior Master Sgt. Scott Ashton, said Behrens — and has about 17 people who participate, though not all are paying members. To form a charter, 15 members must pay annual dues ranging from $20 to $30, depending on rank.

Behrens noted that NCOA is open to all enlisted members — including E-1 to E-3 — regardless of service. It’s also open to military spouses.

“It’s really the joint services getting together,” he said.

A national organization with chapters around the world, NCOA was established in 1960 to enhance and maintain quality of life for noncommissioned and petty officers in all branches of the Armed Forces, National Guard and Reserve, according to its Web site,

Behrens said although NCOA carries some of the same responsibilities as the Air Force First Sergeants Association, “we’re not trying to mimic them,” he said. The Misawa NCOA chapter will seek its own niche in the Misawa community, he said.

“We’re going to try and get involved with the Japanese people,” he said. “We are accepting people who want to participate and just learn what it’s about” without paying dues.

Call DSN 226-3218 for more information about NCOA or the group’s Iraq charity drive.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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