Operation Iraqi School Supplies

Psalm 91, the protection prayer for soldiers: “I shall not be afraid of the terror by night nor of the arrow that flies by day.”

Sgt First Class, Danny DeNormandie, age 39, was part of the 101st’s second assault into Iraq this past spring. The 101st had its first “rendezvous with destiny” in January 1991, during history’s deepest combat air assault into enemy territory. The 101st sustained no soldiers killed in action during that 100-hour war. Thousands of enemy prisoners were captured.

Things are different, this time. Casualties are mounting. Recently, two Blackhawk helicopters crashed trying to evade enemy fire. Twelve soldiers died. Nine are injured. They were from the 101st.

Danny DeNormandie is more than a soldier. He is an airborne ranger, an elite member of the Army, one of the few who survived their gruelling extensive training that many “wash out of.” A real soldier, he wanted to be right up front. He wanted to go, feeling that with his age and experience he would be able to help save the lives of many young soldiers in Iraq. At first, he was the non-commissioned officer in charge. The guy who wears the stripes, at a desk. Then, he got his platoon, a squad of 27 guys working for him, on patrols. DeNormandie wrote HUMAN EVENTS, “I am going to be a Platoon Sergeant. Which means I am going to look out for the welfare of about 28-32 soldiers, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.”

DeNormandie’s company in Mosul are “beat cops.” He is “as busy as a one-legged guy in a butt-kicking contest.” His men were given the task of clearing the weapons that the Iraqi military hid from the aerial campaign in the school buildings and mosques around Mosul. While completing their job, the soldiers noticed the Hussein regime had pillaged the schools. There was nothing for the children. Schools re-opened once the region stabilized were unable to provide basics to the children.

Danny recalls the first child he gave supplies, pencils, papers and crayons to, the 9-year-old son of a carpenter putting a door on his room. DeNormandie writes, “I reached under my cot, pulled out a box. Immediately he sat at my desk and started drawing. The look in his eyes, the enthusiasm in which he went at it was outstanding. He presented me with the picture before he left.”

“So,” writes Danny, “I sent out a simple request” asking friends and family to participate, seeking school supplies for Iraqi schoolchildren. “Anything would help.” He hoped for enough to “field a classroom.” He promised a “no red tape” delivery to the children directly.

He never expected what happened. His fianc??©e, Sheri Matis, told her brother Karl Matis, in Hall County, Ga., that Danny wanted school supplies for the Iraqi schoolchildren. Karl Matis told his employers Hal and Bettye Chambers about setting up the drive. Bettye, Hall County GOP webmaster, posted Danny’s e-mail asking for supplies on the website. Politicians read her website and asked what they could do. Sheri enlisted her employer, the Girl Scouts, “whose very mission is to instil patriotism and a sense of service” in girls. Karl posted boxes at Kroger’s, a grocery chain. And the supplies started coming. They got a huge gamut of useable supplies, like bottles of glue, blunt kids’ scissors, pencil sharpeners, and erasers, pens, pencils, all kinds of papers and of course all kinds of notebooks, even a little compass, and protractors. A marketing department of a major chain donated a couple of semi-loads of excess inventory in their warehouse to Operation Iraqi School Children. All the volunteers had to do was get the donations to Iraq.

The platoon’s chaplain, in Iraq, has done the bulk of the work getting supplies to schools. He prepares the items for moves to various schools. Danny’s soldiers recognize the boxes right away when they come. They bear Bettye’s “US (picture of a big red heart) Iraqi Children” stickers all over them.

The why of Operation Iraqi School Children is simple enough. “My biggest motivation in anything that I do,” DeNormandie writes, “comes from the tremendous love I have for my daughter. I describe her as my Heart.”