Special Reports

Kelly Anderson and Donna Frye's efforts bring kindness and gifts to Iraqi kids via the Idaho troops of the 116th

KIRKUK, Iraq — 1st Lt. Jon Frye of Eagle held a small blue sandal against the sole of the child's bare foot.

"Will they fit?" he asked. He fussed until he was satisfied the sandals were the right size. "OK, very good."

Frye moved to another hospital bed, where a mother cradled an infant. He handed her a pair of sandals for her baby. "They're kind of big, but the baby will grow real fast," Frye said.

He continued to other beds, handing out Nerf footballs, plastic harmonicas, flying discs and candy necklaces.

The hospital visit was no Army-initiated photo op. "Operation Eagle" was the brainchild of kick-boxing student Kelly Anderson to help the husband of her teacher, Donna Frye, at the Rocky Mountain Fitness gym in Eagle. Months of effort brought seven soldiers from the Idaho Army Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team to the children's floor of the Azadi hospital Wednesday in Kirkuk.

The children looked a little confused and overwhelmed. Their dimly lit hospital room was filled with U.S. soldiers in full battle gear, carrying boxes of sandals, socks, blankets, toys and candy.

"I think we're a little scary in all our body armor and everything, and the kids are kind of hesitant sometimes," 1st Lt. Aaron Jarnagin of Idaho Falls said.

Jarnagin, Frye and Spc. Kevin Harrington of Lewiston, Spc. David Wilson of Carey, Spc. Matthew Timmons of Rupert, Spc. Grandville Wade of Chicago and Sgt. John Costigan, of West Covina, Calif., got to distribute the gifts to children at the Azadi hospital.

After receiving a small metal car, an Iraqi boy lifted it within inches of his eyes and examined it as if it were an exotic insect. Then he started pushing it around the gray wool blanket on his hospital bed.

Several other children seemed perplexed by the gifts. Jarnagin blew on a pinwheel to demonstrate how it worked to a boy of about 2.

"I think a lot of them don't know what (the toys) are," Jarnagin said.

Sgt. Chris Irizarry of Boise handed out Hawaiian punch lollipops. "One thing they always know," said Irizarry, "is candy."

A smiling girl with sandy brown hair in pigtails approached and took a lollipop from Irizarry. She wore denim jeans with embroidered flowers and a matching denim jacket. She followed the soldiers up and down the hallways as they delivered presents to about 20 kids ranging from infants to grade-schoolers.

Frye, executive officer for Bravo Company, 2-116th, blew bubbles. The children watched rapt, following the descending bubbles with their eyes.

"I saw some good smiles and some wide smiles, and I'm not sure these kids have a lot to smile about," Frye said.

An entourage of curious hospital workers followed the soldiers into every room. Older Iraqi women in scarves and baggy, full-length dresses stared sternly at the procession, but most of the younger mothers smiled as their children received gifts. The soldiers offered the young mothers packs of Doublemint gum. They smiled and accepted.

"I think it's a lot about how they were raised," Jarnagin said. "I think a lot of the younger people are pretty open to Americans, but there's a big difference in cultures, still."