RAMADI, Iraq — “Today is the kind of day where it makes you proud to be a soldier,” said 1st Lt. Jonty McCoy, platoon leader with 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division-Center.
McCoy, speaking April 2, and his fellow 4th AAB soldiers had just distributed 21 pediatric wheelchairs to disabled Iraqi children at the Anbar Operations Center in Ramadi, Iraq.
“This is by far the best thing we’ve been able to see this deployment,” he said. “The quality of life for these children has now significantly improved and to be a part of that is amazing.”
The event was made possible thanks to Brad Blauser, a Dallas native who founded the nonprofit organization Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids in August 2005. Blauser said that in Iraq, many children are born with cerebral palsy and spina bifida, causing a physical disability in movement. He added that many children also have become double amputees as a result of violence in the country, “so I came up with a plan in August 2005 to help,” he said.
“I mean, who else is going to do this?” said Blauser of his reasons to continue supporting this program for the past five and a half years. He also credits support from Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who, during his time in that position, helped Blauser jumpstart the program. But the program remains strong thanks to the continued support of U.S. citizens who donate money to fund the $385 wheelchairs — which are given at no cost to Iraqi families in need — and the U.S. service members who donate their time to assemble and distribute them.
Blauser helped teach 4th AAB soldiers and Ministry of Health rehabilitation center employees how to fit the wheelchairs to children.
“They will be able to adjust the wheelchair to fit the child and as the child grows, the wheelchair grows also,” he said.
Blauser said there also is a plan in the works to support this program after the United States withdraws from Iraq at the end of this year.
“We’ve teamed up with the Iraqi Disable Alliance Organization and the plan is to have the Iraqis eventually manufacture the wheelchairs and distribute them to not only Iraqi children, but perhaps Afghani children as well,” he said.
Until then, Blauser said he has about 60 more wheelchairs he plans to distribute in the near future. Counting those 60 wheelchairs, the total number of wheelchairs distributed is just under 1,000.
Spc. Gwendolyn Cousin, with G Company, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th AAB, who was on hand to support the Ramadi distribution, said that participating in the event was a blessing.
“I’m humbled to be a part of something that is so rewarding,” she said. “To be able to come out here and make a difference in someone’s life, it’s beautiful.”