Soldiers Fighting for the Children

By Spc. Erin Robicheaux

CAMP TIGERLAND, Baghdad (CENTCOM)– Ask three different Soldiers why they are stationed in Baghdad, and you’re likely to get three very different answers. However, two Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery are in perfect synchronization of what they are fighting for.

Staff Sgt. Shaun Warren from Kenner, La., and Sgt. Keith Bonnet from Slidell, La., have a soft spot for the children of Baghdad. They mean so much to them that the Soldiers of the New Orleans based unit have developed a website, so that anyone with internet access can help them give these kids a better quality of life.

“The purpose was not only to help the kids here, but also to give the kids in the states a more worldly view and to get the future leaders involved in helping other countries,” said Bonnet, who is also the battalion mail clerk and administrative non-commissioned officer for headquarters battery.

The website: www.childrenofbaghdad.com, began as a Civil Affairs project that was tasked to all battalions from the brigade level. Past CA projects include hospital renovations, water pipeline construction and heater distribution, just to name a few. This particular mission originally began as “Operation Kids for Kids.” The idea was to get schools back home to sponsor schools in the 256th Brigade Combat Team’s area of operation, with the kids in the United States gathering monetary donations or various school supplies to send to Baghdad.

“The project came to me through our chain of command and I was told to get the ball rolling. I knew that Warren had experience with web design.”

Naturally, he pulled Warren in to help him with the project. The Soldiers were told to make it as big as they possibly could. They wasted no time, and on Jan. 10, www.childrenofbagdhdad.com was born.

The website contains a list of items that the children are in dire need of, such as shoes and socks, clothes, toys, and non-perishable food. There is also a photo gallery with photographs of the Soldiers interacting with kids in the area.

Two weeks after the website was posted, the Soldiers were already receiving items from all over the country. They also registered onto www.anysoldier.com, which was developed for troops deployed overseas needing items that are hard to get in their areas. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can log on and sponsor a Soldier to send them the necessities that they have requested. Not long after registering onto this site, the two Soldiers were overwhelmed with the response.

“We’ve accepted donations from California to New York,” said Warren, “It’s everywhere!” To date, they have had approximately 12,000 hits on their website and have received over 300 pounds of mail for the kids.

Bonnet says that even though they strayed a little bit from the original intent, the website is geared specifically for the kids, making it the only one of its kind. They still look to U.S. schools for donations, but they began by knocking on the doors of the nurturers of their own childhoods.

“Everybody’s willing to help,” says Warren, “this project is like a conduit for the people back home to help develop this country.”

Bonnet and Warren called family, friends, old teachers and anyone they could think of to tell them about the website, and from there it has spread like wildfire. Those who they spoke with contacted others, and it eventually got to the local media.

“I’ve been in contact with the mayor of Kenner, La., and he’s talked about it with a local television station, so we’re getting a lot of publicity for the site,” said Warren.

Bonnet says that though this all started with people from their own lives trying to help them out, it has since become the people of the United States changing the world.

“Now, instead of everyone trying to help the Soldiers directly, it has become people assisting them in helping the children of Iraq,” he said.

Warren believes the events in Iraq are this generation’s shining moments.

“Vietnam was the largest thing that happened in our mothers’ and fathers’ lifetimes, and for us, this is it,” he said.