Service Members Build, Deliver Wheelchairs To Iraqi Children
(April 13, 2011)
U.S. Army Sgt. Leslie
Peterson, a medic at the Ortiz Troop Medical
Clinic at Forward Operating Base Prosperity
here, adjusts the strap on the wheelchair for
one of the Iraqi children who were provided a
brand new, adjustable, pediatric-grade
wheelchair here March 5. 2011. The wheelchairs
were designed to be versatile enough to fit
children who live with a wide variety of
BAGHDAD, Iraq (4/10/2011) – Approximately one
out of seven Iraqi children struggle with a
disability, most of which cause immobility, said
Brad Blauser, founder of the Wheelchairs for
Iraqi Kids effort, a non-governmental
organization founded to bring pediatric
wheelchairs to Iraqi children.
organization, which began in 2005, has
distributed more than 600 wheelchairs, purchased
with donations from individuals, companies and
organizations, to children across Iraq.
Recently, more than 80 volunteers – comprised of
U.S. service members, U.S. State Department
employees and Iraqi doctors – took time from
their normal mission requirements, to assemble
and deliver pediatric-grade wheelchairs for
distribution to Iraqi children who have
These wheelchairs are specifically designed so they can be
adjusted to fit children who have a wide variety of
orthopedic challenges, said Blauser, who personally checks
every wheelchair to ensure a proper fit for each child.|
These specially-designed, pediatric wheelchairs can be
adjusted for each child's unique needs, and ensure a
comfortable and secure fit.
But the chair doesn't just
account for the comfort of the child.
the chairs also accounted for the family members who would
be moving the child about.
“Even if the chair needs
to be laid flat, there is a special handle created to allow
families to continue to move the chair without being
uncomfortable,” Blauser said.
The most recent
volunteer effort was organized by U.S. Navy Sen. Chief
Andrew Fittler, the operations non-commissioned officer in
charge for United States Forces-Iraq's Baghdad Provincial
Reconstruction Team, who became involved with the
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids organization in early January.
Between the frequent Iraqi sandstorms and Iraq's Day of
Demonstrations in late February, Fittler had his hands full
trying to schedule dates to deliver the wheelchairs.
“The hardest part of organizing this was coming up with a
timeline because of the days of protest and weather,”
Throughout the planning process,
Fittler had help to organize the volunteer effort. One
individual assisting Fittler is U.S. Army 1st Lt. Teresa
Egan, the brigade nurse for 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade,
1st Infantry Division.
However, all the headaches and
hassle that went into the planning process were well worth
it, Egan said.
It wasn't hard to find volunteers to
help with the construction and the delivery of the
wheelchairs, Fittler said.
“When you put [the word]
out that there's an opportunity to help, people just come
running,” Fittler said.
As a part of the effort,
medics from the FOB Prosperity's Ortiz Troop Medical Center
volunteered to adjust the wheelchairs to fit each child who
“This is a tremendous opportunity to
help Iraqi kids in need,” said Army Capt. Steve Showalter,
the clinic officer in charge for the Ortiz and FOB Union III
TMCs “We work closely with the PRT, training Iraqi
physicians, so when we were asked to get involved, we said
Service members jumped at the opportunity to
have personal interaction with Iraqi citizens. Building and
delivering a wheelchair is a way to aid an Iraqi family
directly, and differs greatly from their daily mission to
help the Iraqi people through advising the Government of
“The best part is that I get to do something to
directly help the Iraqis, instead of pushing papers all
day,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Simpson, a USAID in
International Development liaison officer for USF-I
For other service members,
assembling a wheelchair is a way to make a positive impact
to the region in a personal manner.
“For a country
that has seen so much negative, it feels good to do
something positive,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Edward
Peterson, the Senior Advisor for USF-I ITAM Army Logistics.
“Every little thing we do in this country makes a huge
difference,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Adam K. Ernst, the
executive aid to the Strategic logistics director for Iraq
Training and Advisory Mission-Ministry of Defense. “It shows
the good will from our country to theirs.”
service members who were able to help with the delivery of
the wheelchairs, there was nothing like seeing a child smile
with true appreciation for their new mobility.
best thing about this is just seeing the kids' smiles,
seeing that the parents are happy with what we've given,”
said U.S. Army Sgt. Leslie Peterson, a medic with Ortiz TMC
on FOB Prosperity, Iraq.
“We had one little girl who
would laugh every time we went to make an adjustment,” said
U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Dzienny, the deputy director of the
USF-I Iraqi Communication Coordination Engagement Office.
In another group, there was a young Iraqi boy who
understood “good” and continued to share it with all who
helped fit him into his new wheelchair.
happy because before, he wasn't able to go to school due to
his struggles, but now, he will be able to,” said Dr. Sarah
Ali, an Iraqi health advisor for the U.S. Embassy Baghdad's
PRT who translated for the boy. “This has helped his
For Ali, who grew up and studied here,
this is an opportunity to help bring much needed assistance
to her people who have to, most times, go out of the
country, spending thousands of dollars, to get the help they
need, Ali said.
“Every one of the families is so
thankful for what we're doing,” Ali said.
wheelchair, families no longer need to carry their kids
everywhere,” Ali said. “The mother can now go everywhere
with her child and not have to worry about leaving him.”
Since the organization began in 2005, Wheelchairs for
Iraqi Kids has helped more than 600 children. U.S. service
members already devoted to a mission to advise, train and
assist the Government of Iraq, continuously go above and
beyond their duties to personally aid Iraqi families.
Article and photo by Army Spc. Breeanna DuBuke, Maryland
Army National Guard's 29th Mobile Public Affairs|
States Forces – Iraq, Deputy Commanding General (Advising
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