As a staff member stationed in Iraq with American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF), Michelle Risinger has had her share of stressful moments. One recent day made it all worth it, though.
Michelle Risinger, a Red Cross SAF staff member, helped at the children’s event in Tikrit, Iraq on June 30. Credit: Peter Buttner, American Red Cross.
Risinger had the opportunity to help the 25th Infantry Division, Special Troops Battalion play host to about 30 children from the Orphanage House in Tikrit. The day was meant as a community service outreach between the U.S. military on Contingency Operating Base Speicher and the local Iraqis in the town of Tikrit.
What was once a regular gymnasium was transformed into a scene any kid would love-a carnival filled with games and activities like bowling, a football toss, crafts, a dunk tank, and a fishing station where kids threw a fishing line over a painted piece of wood and then reeled in their "fish"-each one a different prize.
All the prizes were donated, and included radios, dolls, beads, yo-yos and plenty of candy and treats. The Red Cross office contributed much of the arts and crafts supplies and supported the crafts station, although Risinger and co-workers Debra Weaver and Peter Buttner (SAF Team Leader) also enjoyed watching the kids play other games.
Risinger and an Iraqi child play a game. Credit: Peter Buttner, American Red Cross.
"The kids found the soccer balls and volleyballs normally used at the gym, and soon games of each type had broken out around the room. I hadn't seen a child since before I deployed some five months ago, and seeing their energy and innocence as they kicked and laughed made my heart want to burst," said Risinger.
The 25th Infantry Division band played during the entire event, and as the day came to a close, a crowd gathered to dance. Piñatas were also tied to both basketball hoops, and the little girls and boys took their best swings to break open the candy-filled objects. At the end of the event, the kids, already loaded down with prizes and treats, were each given a backpack and a smaller pouch filled with more gifts.
Although the primary mission of Red Cross staff members in Iraq is to provide emergency communications between deployed service members and their families back home, helping out on days like these can be one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
"It was absolutely the most fulfilling day I have spent in this country," said Risinger. "Every hardship was forgotten as I watched these children, with no home and no loving parents, run around the gym and hold hands with the soldiers as though the war never was."
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.