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AF Reserve helps get wheelchairs to needy Iraqi children

Members of the 185th Air Mobility Wing begin loading four crates of children's wheelchairs onto a C-130 June 11, 2009, in Sioux City, Iowa. A C-130 aircrew from Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., transported the wheelchairs to Andrews AFB, Md., where a larger cargo plane transported the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian McReynolds)

Members of the 185th Air Mobility Wing begin loading four crates of children's wheelchairs onto a C-130 June 11, 2009, in Sioux City, Iowa. A C-130 aircrew from Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., transported the wheelchairs to Andrews AFB, Md., where a larger cargo plane transported the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian McReynolds)

In this undated photo, an Airman helps custom fit a pediatric wheelchair for an Iraqi child. A C-130 aircrew from the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew wheelchairs like this one to Andrews AFB, Md., where another plane took the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy photo/Brad Blasuer)

In this undated photo, an Airman helps custom fit a pediatric wheelchair for an Iraqi child. A C-130 aircrew from the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew wheelchairs like this one to Andrews AFB, Md., where another plane took the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy photo/Brad Blasuer)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It was a short stopover in America's heartland, but an Air Force Reserve C-130 aircrew helped start a long journey for a special load of cargo headed for Iraq.

On June 11, members of the 302nd Airlift Wing based here flew to Sioux City, Iowa, where they received four pallets of children's wheelchairs destined for Iraq. The 115 wheelchairs, donated by Hope Haven International Ministries of nearby Rock Valley, Iowa, will be handed out to children in the Baghdad area by members of several Army units, including the famed 82nd Airborne Division.

"It really gives you a good feeling when you think about all the children that will benefit from this humanitarian mission," said Capt. Brian McReynolds, aircraft commander for the mission to Sioux City. "This will be my first Denton mission and I'm thankful for this opportunity to represent the Air Force Reserve and to participate in such a noble cause."

According to the proposal submitted to the Denton humanitarian mission office, based at Charleston AFB, S.C., "beneficiaries (of the wheelchairs) will be children in Baghdad who are in dire need for mobility, specifically specialized pediatric wheelchairs. (The children) are currently dragging themselves along the ground, resulting in contact with open waste and debris in the street which proves harmful and even fatal to the health of the children." Kenneth Hundemer, operations manager for the Denton office, said he hoped the end result of the wheelchair's airlift would be "assistance given to those most in need."

The Department of Defense puts forth a significant amount of energy supporting humanitarian efforts wherever they have the ability to do so," said Mr. Hundemer, who has worked in the Denton office for nearly 10 years. "If you take a look at all the people involved ... you will identify a lot of folks that make this humanitarian mission happen."

After a pickup in Sioux City, the wheelchairs were flown to Andrews AFB, Md., where they will be transferred to a strategic airlifter bound for the Persian Gulf. After arriving in Baghdad, the wheelchairs are expected to be distributed to Iraqi children in correlation with the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and U.S. forces.

Due to security concerns, details of the wheelchair delivery are not available to protect not only U.S. and Iraqi military members, but the children expected to receive the wheelchairs. After the wheelchairs are delivered, according to Mr. Hundemer, they will be custom fitted for each of their future Iraqi recipients.

The wheelchair donation is the end result of weeks of coordination between the Denton office and Brad Blauser of the organization 'Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids.' The organization, according to its Web site www.wheelchairsforiraqikids.com, "helps needy disabled children of Iraq by providing high quality pediatric wheelchairs, each sponsored by individual and corporate donors."

"Without the U.S. Air Force Reserve to provide critical transport of these kids' wheelchairs, the disabled kids of Iraq would still be either pulling themselves along the streets or in their homes relegated to a life on the floor," wrote Mr. Blauser via e-mail from Baghdad. "The Air Force Reserve plays a vital role in helping these kids get the humanitarian aid they need so desperately."

To date, the organization has distributed more than 600 wheelchairs to Iraqis, including child and adult wheelchairs. While the need to distribute wheelchairs and other humanitarian aid is so critical to the people of Iraq, according to Mr. Blauser, there is always danger when going "outside the wire."

"[There is always] danger of injury or death from (improvised explosive devices), (rocket-propelled grenades) and small arms attacks," he said. "In April I distributed wheelchairs to kids in a city where 10 days later a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of a local distribution of humanitarian goods - just blocks from where we distributed the kid's wheelchairs days earlier. Thanks to the joint security efforts of the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and U.S. Army and Marines, our distribution events have been without incident up to this point - something for which I'm extremely grateful."

With the first leg of the wheelchair's journey complete, Captain McReynolds said he had a vision of what he'd like Iraqi children to be doing when those wheelchairs showed up at their doorsteps.

"I imagine a lot of smiles and excitement when the children receive these wheelchairs," Captain McReynolds continued. "It's hard to imagine the hardships these children experience each day, and I hope the increased mobility in their lives leads them to more happiness."

Editor's note: The Denton office is named for former Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton who, in 1985, amending U.S. Code 10, the code of law overseeing the armed forces. The Denton Amendment, known as Section 402, provides the Department of Defense the authority to use extra space on U.S. military cargo aircraft to transport humanitarian assistance materials donated by non-governmental organizations, international organizations and private voluntary organizations for humanitarian relief.

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