McChord airman refurbishes desks for Iraqi kids

By DVIDS on March 12, 2010

KIRKUK, Iraq -- Sitting at a well-crafted desk may not seem like a big deal to children in the United States or other more affluent parts of the world, but to the children of Kirkuk's school provinces, it is.

Thanks to several volunteers from the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraqi school children will get to sit in the same style of comfort other children get on a regular basis.

The idea for refurbishing the school desks sprang from a conversation Chief Master Sgt. Tom Pizzi, 506th ECES chief enlisted manager, deployed from McChord AFB, Wash., had with Stacy Barrios, public diplomacy officer, Kirkuk Provincial Reconstruction Team, U.S. Embassy, Iraq.

Originally, the chief wanted to build or paint a school in Kirkuk but learned that security procedures would make that unlikely.

Kirkuk's director of education told Pizzi the desks in the Kirkuk province were in poor shape and could use repairing. The chief also learned from some of the local nationals who work as contractors on base that many of Iraqi school children sit three or four to a small desk.

Initially, the chief and his crew, made up of LN's and CE workers, received 25 desks for repair.

These desks, broken and rusted, were heaped in piles in a field outside one of the local schools. 

One of the LN's picked up the desks and delivered them to the CE compound.

Undeterred by the poor shape of the desks, the crew began welding and sanding the metal frames, cutting and building the wood for the framework and painting and finishing the desks, the chief said.

Tech. Sgt. Douglas Shelton, 506th ECES, deployed from Dover AFB, Del., volunteered his structural expertise to make the desks safer for the children.

"They brought the frame to me and asked my opinion," he said. "I showed them how to round the corners of the desks, so the kids don't hurt themselves." 

The desks are built to seat two children to every desk, but Shelton wanted to add a personal touch.

"I also put dividers in the compartment underneath the desktop so they can feel like they have their own personal space," the sergeant said. "I'd do anything to help the kids. I've seen them at the gates begging for stuff and it just breaks my heart. It's scary seeing kids live like that."

"I don't do it for the glory; I do it because it helps," added Shelton who spent several lunch hours repairing these desks.

To date, 25 of the desks have been assembled and are ready to be delivered to schools in need; however, the chief wants to hit 100 before he leaves next week. 

Pizzi said the new chief enlisted manager for CE agreed to continue the project after he is gone, and several of the crew members from the new rotation have already begun helping out.

"We're building templates for the desks with all the measurements and patterns to make it easy for the next crew to continue the project," said Master Sgt. John Wanner, 506th ECES, deployed from McChord AFB, Wash. "We sent one of the desks downtown to be evaluated, and they [the education director and his staff] were overwhelmed and said they thought it was a brand new desk. That was pretty amazing to hear." 

Pizzi said he has volunteered on many humanitarian efforts before and enjoys making things better for someone else who doesn't have what we have.

"The stuff we have, we take for granted," he said. "If every kid in America could see how these children live, they would appreciate what they have in America."

He also hopes to leave a positive impression on the locals here.

"Those desks are going to live a lot longer in their minds," the chief said. "I hope the fact that the Americans came in and took those beat up, broken down desks and rebuilt them and put them back in the schools will change the mindset of the children and the parents of how they remember the Americans. It's leaving a legacy."