While serving in Kirkuk, Iraq, my living quarters were on the edge of our base. I lived so close to the perimeter that I could see through the wire and watch the Iraqi children on the outside. The children frequently occupied their time by playing games. These kids did not have anything. I never saw them play with any kind of toy. Yet they were able to find joy by playing tag or games of soccer in their bare feet using an old can instead of a ball. My flying partner had children back home, so he was very sensitive to the needs of these kids. Together we watched the children make the best of their situation. One day as the children played, my partner and I walked over to the fence and threw a few toys over the tall barrier. The kids were very excited for the gifts and amazed that anyone would give them toys. We shared with our friends on base what we had done, along with the touching reaction of the children. The word of our experience began to spread. It was not long before we were approached by authorities in the air force. They explained that the military had been working to improve U.S. relations with a strategic small town. The military had gone to great lengths to foster and maintain a high level of public support among those living in the village. We were asked to assist with this objective by gathering and delivering toys in our Blackhawk to the children living there. I loved the idea because I knew it would bless and bring joy to the lives of children living in desperate circumstances. We gathered toys by spreading word of our project on base and also back home. Our families back in the States collected toys in creative ways and then sent them to us. After only a few weeks we were ready to go on our first "toy bombing" mission. A team of special forces was first sent to secure a location in the town. A translator was among the first on the scene to inform locals what was about to transpire. We circled up above until everyone on the ground was in position and we were cleared to land. I then landed my helicopter into the secured zone. It was wonderful to watch the children's expressions as I unloaded the cargo with my crew. We had every kind of toy you could imagine - frisbees, stuffed animals, soccer balls, and footballs - along with some clothes and shoes. We were allowed to play with the kids for about thirty minutes. They knew what to do with soccer balls, but we had to show them how to catch and throw the footballs. The best part of our mission was taking a few minutes to play with them. The kids had a great time. The parents told us through translators how much they appreciated us thinking of their children. This first "toy drop" was a huge success, and we continued to get shipments of toys from back home. I guess word spread, and loving people back in the States continued to send us toys. Shipments came in "from sea to shining sea." The toys filled our building and hallways. It seemed that we could not deliver them fast enough to keep up with the toys coming in. Depending on our mission, we would sometimes fly low and drop the toys without landing. We were able to do this in several villages throughout Iraq. It was not long before we noticed a difference. Before, when we had flown over towns, people would run indoors and hide. Now, however, the villagers would come out and greet us with waves, even when we did not have anything to give. I know we made a difference in building trusting relationships. It was a great feeling to give something to children who actually appreciated the gift. Kids back home have so much that many of them do not appreciate what they have. As a father of a one-year-old girl, I am grateful beyond belief that I can provide for her when so many children go without.
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