By Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson, 115th MPAD / Blackanthem Military News
KIRKUK, Iraq – The 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division invited Coalition Forces to a Christmas Party at an Assyrian Christian School in Kirkuk, Iraq, Dec. 15.
Representing approximately two percent of the population here, according to military officials, the theme of this year’s celebration was ethnic and religious diversity.
“Kirkuk is a good place to be for Christians … a place where all ethnic groups, Arab, Kurd, Turkman and Christian, are living in peace,” said the priest of the Christian school. He also ministers to 2-4 IA Soldiers who operate from Iraqi Army Base K-1 in Kirkuk.
Both IA and CF Soldiers, with the 2414 Logistics Transition Team at K-1, came armed with presents, which they passed out to the children who were clothed in various ethnic dress to represent the cultures that are striving to bring back some semblance of normality to this ethnic diverse area of northeastern Iraq.
“We want to live and work with our neighbors in harmony … as Iraqis,” Maj. Zyad Junaid Omar, 2-4 IA Civil Affairs officer, said. Zyad, whose father is an Arab and mother a Turkman, said that he invites CF Soldiers along to show Iraqis that, “Americans are good people that want to help.” He also wanted the Iraqi public to see how well the IA and CF work together.
“Maj. Zyad is a patriot in the true sense,” said Lt. Col. Greg Markert, 2414 LTT. “He wants to make a difference. He is not concerned about the ethnic background of these children. He’s concerned about Iraq’s future … which they represent.”
The gifts the Soldiers handed out were contributed by employers, friends and family of Pennsylvania Guardsmen Sgt. 1st Class Ken “Gunny” Ganiszewski, 2414 LTT, and Markert, both of Philadelphia. “What started out as a suggestion snowballed into 200 packages full of toys, candy, blankets … the response has been tremendous,” said the former Marine.
This was just one of the several ongoing civil affairs programs run by the 2-4 IA’s CA team.
“We’re honored to be a part of their program,” said Markert. “These children are the future of Iraq; they are the most important equation in our mission here.”
“I fought as a Marine in the Gulf War against some of these Soldiers who I am now mentoring,” Ganiszewski said. “This brotherhood we’ve formed is making a positive impact on the children of Iraq … its future.”
He said that both groups of Soldiers agree that what they are doing has a larger impact than “kicking doors down and brandishing weapons.” He underlined the importance of getting involved by saying, “That child who is given a pair of shoes may return home and convince a relative not to place an IED out on the road. Or, if he sees someone trying to hurt an IA or CF Soldier, he’ll report it.”
The LTT team has 10 members. They hail from the 240th Quartermaster’s Company, 16th Sustainment Brigade from Bamburg, Germany; 13th Combat Service Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Ft. Benning, Ga.; the National Guard Bureau and its 28th Infantry Division’s staff. All of the U.S. Soldiers are attached to the National Guard’s 213th Area Support Group, Allentown, Pa., currently headquartered at Forward Operating Base Anaconda.
“We’ve come from all over the U.S. and Germany to form this team. We’ve since become a cohesive family, together with our adoptive family, meaning our fellow Soldiers with the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Brigade, 4th Division.” Markert said.