Germany-based 1st Armored Division Soldiers help distribute wheelchairs to Iraqi children

By U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
June 24, 2010

An Iraqi girl plays with a stuffed animal given to her by Soldiers of the 1st Armored Division Special Troops Battalion at Baghdad's Camp Liberty, June 21. The Soldiers had just finished helping the group Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids donate the girl's pediatric wheelchair to her family free of charge. (Photo by Sgt. Teri Hansen)
An Iraqi girl plays with a stuffed animal given to her by Soldiers of the 1st Armored Division Special Troops Battalion at Baghdad's Camp Liberty, June 21. The Soldiers had just finished helping the group Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids donate the girl's pediatric wheelchair to her family free of charge. (Photo by Sgt. Teri Hansen)

BAGHDAD -- Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe's 1st Armored Division Special Troops Battalion joined U.S. sailors, airmen and federal civilian employees to distribute pediatric wheelchairs to approximately 40 disabled Iraqi children at the
Camp Liberty Field House here, June 21.

The wheelchairs were provided by the organization Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids, founded by Brad Blauser in 2005.

Blauser said the organization was established in response to requests from Soldiers, who had witnessed disabled Iraqi
children without wheelchairs struggling for mobility. With help from Soldiers across Iraq, Blauser said, he has
distributed more than 740 pediatric wheelchairs designed specifically for children who live in areas with difficult
terrain.

“These wheelchairs are going to change these children’s lives,” said Blauser. “They will improve their health and
prolong their lives. It is encouraging and makes me happy to continue this work.”

Maj. Fred Phillip, STB executive officer, asked for volunteers from the battalion to help assemble the wheelchairs that
were donated here. The major said the response to that request surprised him.

“The turnout was great. There are more volunteers than I expected,” he said. “This is such a rewarding experience; more
so than anything most of these Soldiers will do during their whole deployment.”

Pfc. Ginger Lamere, a mechanic with the STB's Company B, was one of the Soldiers who volunteered her skills and free
time to help.

“It’s such a good cause,” said Lamere, adding that being a mechanic didn't make assembling wheelchairs any easier, as
they came with no instructions.

Still, with so many volunteers the assembly of the wheelchairs took only a couple of hours. But distribution of the
chairs proved more difficult because each had to be fitted to the user's body, to avoid causing further health
complications.

“These chairs are designed to fit the size and condition of the child,” said Lt. Col. Vincent Barnhart, the 1st Armored
Division surgeon. Otherwise, the colonel said, pressure sores can develop and become very serious if they become
infected.

Each child was carefully placed in a wheelchair which servicemembers then gently adjusted to fit the child’s body and
ensure comfort and safety. One parent of each child was trained to adjust the chairs and make modifications as the
child grows.

“These chairs can benefit children in many situations,” said Capt. Antonio Chang, an STB physician's assistant. “The
chairs can be used by children with conditions from multiple sclerosis to trauma injuries.”

Just as the wheelchairs will change Iraqi children's lives, distributing them was a life-altering event for many of the
servicemembers who took part.

“This was a great opportunity to give back to the Iraqi people, and a great way to ring in the new era of [Operation]
New Dawn,” said Chang. “I feel lucky to be one of the fortunate ones to be here. ... It brings me great happiness to be
a part of this.”

The 1st Armored Division STB is based at the Wiesbaden (Germany) Army Airfield.