The War Kids

Last evening, my firm welcomed Capt. John Powers, an Iraq war vet with an extraordinary idea. Capt. Powers screened a documentary called "Gunner Palace" and talked with the audience for more than an hour about his idea for helping kids in Iraq. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to the presentation, but my friend and colleague Jeff Harrell did, and he tells the story a heck of a lot better than I could have.

The tale opens this way:

Jon Powers never meant to become a soldier. He wanted to be a teacher. He joined the ROTC not out of an overwhelming sense of patriotism, but because the program paid for college. He graduated in 2000 with a degree in education, a second lieutenant’s bar and a debt to his country. It was a debt he was happy to repay: three years and out, and back to the life to which he’d aspired, the life of a schoolteacher.

Jon was stationed in Germany on September 11, 2001.

Seriously — you need to follow the link, go to Jeff’s blog and read the every word.

The central element:

In late 2003, Jon was on a routine — if anything in such a place can be called routine — humanitarian mission to a Baghdad orphanage called St. Hannah’s when one of the nuns took him aside. She asked him not to come visit the children again. If the insurgents, who were always watching, saw the American soldiers visiting the orphanage again, she said, they would massacre the children.

Jon Powers never meant to be a soldier. He wanted to be a teacher. He didn’t want to put kids in danger. He wanted to take care of them.

It was in that moment, that horrible, sinking moment, that the idea for War Kids Relief was born.

Here’s a bit more:

He never forgot those kids, the kids he helped there, the kids he and the other Gunners inadvertently put in harm’s way.

See, Jon got to come home. Jon and the other Gunners did their time in Iraq, they served their fourteen months, and then they got to come home.

But those kids are still there.

The ones that haven’t been murdered, anyway.

In November 2005, Jon launched War Kids Relief, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Not to support the war and not to impede it, but simply to help twelve million Iraqi kids grow up a little safer and with a little more hope.

And the final bit:

The soldiers in Iraq have done their jobs, and we honor them for it, and we thank them for their continued sacrifice. But what Iraq needs now is not just soldiers, but teachers.

Jon Powers never meant to become a soldier. He wanted to be a teacher.

The VVAF is accepting donations. You can give as little as $2.

I’ve visited the VVAF’s site and made my contribution. I hope you will, too.

And I’ll just add in passing how great it is that the place I work had the chance to have Capt. Powers in to talk about his experiences, and his amazing idea.

More about the War Kids Relief effort here.