This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Posted: 5:58 PM- A months-long effort on the part of Utah military families to collect toys, educational supplies and humanitarian goods for distribution in Iraq came to fruition Saturday as members of the 116th Convoy Security Company visited two cities in northern Iraq to give away their bounty.
Army National Guard Lt. Brent Taylor led the mission, which took him and 14 other Utah soldiers over badly neglected dirt roads, into thick mud bogs and through swollen rivers to get to the villages of Qudeela and Ankawa.
"I want you to know you put smiles on the faces of the Iraqi people today," Taylor said in a statement to the hundreds of Utahns who donated to the effort, dubbed "Feed Uncle SAM," last fall.
Jennie Taylor certainly was smiling. She helped oversee the project, which netted an estimated $75,000 in various items that volunteers organized into care packages for soldiers, educational materials and humanitarian supplies.
"To see the good our soldiers are doing among the local Iraqi people reminds me why my husband and I ever decided he needed to go over there in the first place," she said.
The unit of about 200 soldiers - more than half of whom had done a prior combat tour before deploying last summer - was comprised almost exclusively of volunteers. The company primarily has been tasked with providing security to convoys of military and civilian vehicles in northern Iraq, but Brent Taylor said so-called "hearts and minds" missions "go a long way towards improving the image of United States and coalition forces in the area" - and he believes those changes will ultimately allow U.S. forces to withdraw from a country where the citizens consider Americans to be their allies.
"In our line of work we escort convoys, and do not get a lot of opportunities to interact with the Iraqi people," Taylor said. "Being able to go out and visit with them and deal with them directly was really an awesome experience. I especially loved seeing the smiles on the kid's faces."
The mission came at a time when Iraqis appear deeply conflicted about the presence of U.S. troops in their country. Nearly 75 percent of Iraqis say they oppose the presence of U.S. forces in their country, but only 38 percent believe that the U.S. should withdraw its forces immediately, according to an ABC News poll released this week.
In Qudeela, about 65 miles south of Mosul, the U.S. soldiers handed over 10 large boxes of educational supplies - enough to last for about six months, according to the local headmaster. In Ankawa, a predominantly Christian city of some 20,000 residents, the soldiers distributed toys, medical supplies and other humanitarian goods, including blankets, quilts, clothes, hygiene kits and shoes.