Toys and tea: The spirit of giving
January 3, 2005
HORA AL BOSH, Iraq — Sometimes, it’s the soldiers who give out the gifts. Sometimes, it’s the soldiers who get them.
As a regular part of their patrols in the areas around Taji, the National Guard soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment have been handing out blankets and toys to children and families in an effort to “win the hearts and minds” of people who could help bring stability to the region.
And on days like Thursday, the soldiers are treated as welcome guests, invited to share a quick meal and some hot tea.
During a patrol near Hora al Bosh, a small farming village largely made up of crumbling stone and brick compounds, members of 1st Platoon, Company A kept an eye out for danger as they tried to attend to the community. At the beginning of the patrol, they walked through the village streets, handing out a half-dozen thick blankets to what appeared to be the families most in need.
“I remember this house. Let’s give one to them,” said 2nd Lt. Dan Hover, a 31-year-old from Medina, Ohio, gesturing to a group of young girls peering between the doors of a red metal gate.
As the soldiers moved through the streets, they gathered the customary crowd of children, who asked for such wide-ranging items as pens, water and money. The kids helped up younger siblings, chanting “baby! baby!” in hopes of enticing the soldiers to give them something.
Soldiers from the battalion said Hora al Bosh is a hard town to read: Some days, they are welcomed with smiles and waves and on other days people stare at the patrols from behind locked gates and fences.
After they had handed out all the blankets, the soldiers got back into their Humvees and patrolled the surrounding area, looking for weapons caches and possible spots for roadside bombs. As they stopped to search a set of fallow fields, two boys approached the soldiers and gave them freshly baked flatbread, still warm from the oven.
The boys then went back into the farmhouse, and returned with hot tea and sugar.
As the sun went down, the soldiers set up a traffic checkpoint, searching passing cars.
Before the platoon went out on its patrol, members were paid a surprise visit by Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, which has responsibility for the areas in and around Baghdad.
Chiarelli spent part of Thursday visiting the 1st of the 69th, thanking soldiers, checking on their progress in the area and asking what support they needed.
As the squad’s members lined up their Humvees to roll out, Chiarelli wanted their input. The soldiers asked about more helmet clips for their night vision devices, side arms for Humvee gunners and more hand-mikes for their radios.
Chiarelli listened to the requests, promised to get answers for the soldiers and left them with a simple but direct message about getting complacent on their patrols: “Don’t be predictable,” he said.