Northern Iraqis Blanketed with 'Heart and Soul'
By 1st Lt. Kendra Evers
Combat medic Spc. Steve Stephens, C Company, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, Forward Operating Base Marez, Iraq, opens a box of donated blankets he received from Blankets.com, Inc. The blankets are part of a mission Stephens founded called "Soldiers helping those in need-Iraq". (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Kendra Evers, 27th Brigade Support Battalion)
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq-Mail clerks in the 27th Brigade Support Battalion mail room have been noticing a steady stream of boxes of blankets being shipped to one of the Soldiers in C Company.
Combat medic Spc. Steve Stephens, a Portland, Ore., native, with the help of a blanket drive committee made up of fellow Soldiers in the BSB, has started a blanket drive to make a difference in the lives of the people living in northern Iraq.
"There are a large number of displaced Iraqis living in Mosul and the surrounding areas that don't have a lot and could use a blanket or two," Stephens explained. "Soldiers Helping Those in Need-Iraq is a mission of the heart and soul. Thousands of Iraqi people have no heat or electricity. It is our mission to make a positive difference in their lives; and as simple as a blanket may be to those back home, a blanket to those who have nothing is more of a necessity than it is a want."
The blanket drive initially started as a toy drive for the orphans of Iraq, but Stephens found that there was a greater need for simple items, like blankets. His goal is to collect 2,000 blankets that will be distributed to Iraqis in need while on various humanitarian missions. In order to reach that goal, Stephens contacted a representative from www.blankets.com, Inc., to see if he could add "Soldiers helping those in need-Iraq" as an organization on their donation page. The company accepted his request and quickly added a "Soldiers" link to their "Donate a blanket" page on their Web site.
Combat medic, Spc. Steve Stephens, stops to pose with local Iraqi children during his unit's visit to several villages in northern Iraq to hand out humanitarian supplies. Stephens, a Portland, Ore., native, is collecting blankets on his personal time to distribute to the local people while he is deployed. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Kendra Evers, 27th Brigade Support Battalion)
"When I received the e-mail from Specialist Stephens, I could tell by his letter that he was a very compassionate person who was truly moved by the condition of the Iraqi people where he was stationed in Mosul," said Monica Barbuscia, general manager, Blankets.com, Inc.. "I was truly moved by the fact that he, and those who would be helping him, were there in Iraq risking their lives day after day, yet they had concern for the Iraqis around them. It made me cry, it made me proud to know the kind of people we have over there representing the U.S.A., and it made me want to help in any way I could. Blankets.com feels honored to be involved in getting blankets over to Iraq to help Specialist Stephens reach his goal of donating at least 2,000 blankets. It is a small thing compared to what he is doing," she said.
The blankets cost just $8.50 including shipping, and are shipped directly to Stephens in Mosul, Iraq. Stephens hopes that by keeping the cost down and making the process as easy a few simple clicks, it will encourage more people to participate.
"We are hoping for the ripple effect," said Stephens. "Once word gets out about this blanket drive, we hope that Soldiers will tell their families, friends, churches, and other organizations who will continue to spread the word."
The blanket drive was started while it was still cold outside, Stephens explained, but even though the weather is starting to get warmer, the Iraqi people would still be able to use a blanket.
"Even during the driving heat of the summer they can be used as shelter from the heat, as a pillow, or even as something to cover the ground with so they don't sleep on the dirt," Stephens added, hoping that donations of blankets continue to increase as rapidly as the temperature.
In addition to starting the blanket drive, Stephens has also collected boxes of school supplies, Beanie Babies, and hats and gloves from various donors to give out to the children of Iraq as well.
His squad leader, Staff Sgt. Johnny Cheatham, said Stephens is one of those people who naturally has an eagerness to help others. "He's like a big kid at heart," smiled Cheatham. "He is one of the most highly-motivated individuals I've ever met."
Stephens' platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Warren Wright, agreed with Cheatham and added "Stephens epitomizes selfless service."
"I think it's a great thing for new Soldiers coming into the Army to be so eager to help others," said 1st Sgt. Christopher Coleman, C Company, 27th BSB. "It's a trait more people should have, not just Soldiers."