U.S., Iraqi forces unite to scout for a future: Troops become scouters for Iraqi Boy, Girl Scouts
Friday, October 22, 2010
Posted by: jennifer punch
Retrieved from: http://www.thetowntalk.com/article/20101022/NEWS01/101022018
BAGHDAD, Iraq – "When I see the children, and see how much their faces light up when they see us, I think, ‘This is why we’re here,’” said a deployed Soldier with the Louisiana Army National Guard as she described not only the Operation New Dawn deployment, but why she volunteers her downtime to work with the Iraqi Boy and Girl Scouts.
"We’re here so these children have a chance at a future,” continued 1st Sgt. Gwen Haliburton, of the 199th Brigade Support Battalion of Alexandria, La., currently stationed at the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, Iraq, and operating as the Garrison Command under United States Division – Central.
Children of members of the Iraqi Special Forces gather every Saturday, along with U.S. and Iraqi troops, with one common goal -- to build a better tomorrow.
Designed to mirror the program in the U.S., the Iraqi scouts learn skills and self-discipline, and are rewarded badges for their achievements.
First Lt. Jessica R. Plummer, a platoon leader for B Company of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Special Troops Battalion of Lafayette, La., and a volunteer with the program said the scout program empowers the youth to support, and influence their club and community.
"The program gets young people involved in activities that provide the opportunities for personal expression, leadership, community involvement, volunteerism, planning and decision making,” she said.
Plummer said the children learn to sustain meaningful relationships with others, while developing a positive self-image.
"Just a few hours of our time each week can have such a positive impact on the children,” she said. "Being there for them can help build courage, confidence and character.”
Though the program is designed to stimulate the Iraqi children, the American volunteers say the benefit is mutual.
Plummer, who resides in Baton Rouge, La., said it fosters a cultural understanding and acceptance for everyone involved.
"I can look back years from now and say that I’ve had a chance to interact with a culture unlike my own.”
Maj. Jacques D. Walker, an access control director for the VBC, with the 256th IBCT, and a New Orleans native, said his involvement with the program has become his personal fulfillment while deployed.
"I do my job every day, and I know it’s important,” he said, "but to see the look of thanks in their eyes when we help them in a scouting activity makes it all worthwhile. You don’t need an interpreter to figure that out.”
Though the troops are deployed for up to a year at a time, many, including Haliburton, who will soon be going back to her Leesville, La., home, have pledged to continue contribution even after the tour is over.
The leading founder, Eric B. Fretz, a deployed Navy lieutenant commander and Ann Arbor, Mich. Resident, who was deployed when the program began in June 2008, said significant progress was made after his redeployment thanks to the volunteers and donations.
"During the first meeting, goats were running around us, a sandstorm was blowing and there were piles of trash and tires everywhere,” he recalled.
Today, there is a volley ball court, basketball court, baseball field with grass and even a playground for the scouts.
What started with a bashful 15 scouts has now worked its way up to about 100 anxious Saturday attendants, who range in age from 4 to 17.
"Such a change …” Fretz proudly remarked.
The Boy Scout troop leader in Ann Arbor, who has since retired from the Navy, said the ultimate goal is that the Iraqi’s fully take over and continue the program after U.S. troops withdraw at the end of next year.
For more information on the program please visit http://www.victorybasecouncil.org/.