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An Iraqi girl cradles the toys she received Tuesday from U.S. soldiers and local police at a school in Khadra.

An Iraqi girl cradles the toys she received Tuesday from U.S. soldiers and local police at a school in Khadra. (Vince Little / S&S)

An Iraqi girl cradles the toys she received Tuesday from U.S. soldiers and local police at a school in Khadra.

An Iraqi girl cradles the toys she received Tuesday from U.S. soldiers and local police at a school in Khadra. (Vince Little / S&S)

Sgt. Joshua Holland, 25, of Bessemer, N.C., gives a toy to an Iraqi girl Tuesday at a school in Khadra, Iraq. The soldier is assigned to the 401st Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade.

Sgt. Joshua Holland, 25, of Bessemer, N.C., gives a toy to an Iraqi girl Tuesday at a school in Khadra, Iraq. The soldier is assigned to the 401st Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade. (Vince Little / S&S)

KHADRA, Iraq — U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police handed out toys to kindergarten students here Tuesday in a charitable outreach that seemed unthinkable six months ago.

“This is why I came to Iraq,” said Sgt. Erik Neal, a squad leader for 3rd Platoon, 401st Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade.

“This is what I came here to do,” said Neal, 30, of Morgantown, W.Va.

But the area’s notorious past almost wouldn’t allow it.

The company — which deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, eight months ago — is responsible for cultivating the Khadra police station, among others. But when the unit arrived in Iraq, the locale was a magnet for mortars, rockets, grenades and small-arms fire.

A car bomb went off one day near the station’s entrance. On another occasion, a room inside was destroyed when an explosive ignited in a locker. A third blast took down an observation tower on the perimeter.

“Seems like we got attacked every day that first month,” said Sgt. Joshua Holland, 25, of Bessemer, N.C., who’s on his third Iraq tour. “It was horrible. Luckily, no one got injured.

“It was such a bad area, it got attacked so much we shut it down.”

Suspecting corruption within the station, the soldiers arrived one morning last July, rounded up the Iraqi police into mass formation and relieved them all of duty. It became a combat outpost for coalition forces and Iraqi national police.

In October, they installed a new command and fresh batch of officers and reopened it as a local police station.

“Since then, it has come around tremendously,” Neal said. “It’s still got a ways to go, but you can see the progress we’ve made working with the [Iraqi police] here.”

Added Holland: “It’s a little like raising a kid. The country is starting off brand new. You’ve got to start from scratch and build it as you go along.”

Neal said Tuesday’s toy giveaway was the first venture the soldiers had attempted with the local police in the community. With heavy security inside and outside the school, the event went off without incident.

“This is mainly for the [Iraqi police] so the kids get to see them. It lets them know they care,” Neal said. “It’s basic community policing. That’s what this event is all about. It’s more about the IPs; we just provided the toys.”


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