Thursday, August 9, 2007
Peace through Puppets
Good News from Iraq: 9 Aug 2007
From MNF-I, Puppets help U.S. troops reach out to children in Baqubah.
BAQUBAH — During a recent mission with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Soldiers in Stryker vehicles entered Buhriz, near Baqubah, prepared for a firefight.
Two Stryker vehicles blocked the street. Soldiers scanned the vicinity, checked roof tops for signs of the enemy, and cleared the building before entering.
Inside, eight-year-old Iraqi school children looked on in shock, as the U.S. Soldiers went through their school with weapons at the ready.
Two terrified little girls attempted to exit the classroom as the Soldiers made their way through the school.
This reaction was something 1st Sgt. Bruce Reges, first sergeant for Company C, 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, from Little Rock, Ark., was not accustomed to.
The National Guardsman and part-time college professor from Big Rapids, Mich., was accustomed to walking into a classroom to find students eager to learn, not run away from him.
“They see us as extremely (good) at what we do – finding the enemy and destroying their ability to fight,” said the 55-year-old. “Innocents get caught in the crossfire. The bad guys tell the kids we will kill them if we catch them.”
Reges came up with a way to help ease their fears when dealing with Soldiers.
“We needed some way to let them know we are human too – fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers,” Reges said. “So, I thought two small puppets in my cargo pocket would be helpful in bridging the gap.”
He said that if the children could see U.S. troops as human beings, they would be less afraid to see Soldiers in their town.
And that is how the pocket puppets idea was born. With the help of his 80-year-old mother, Jean Reges-Burn, the idea has sparked a movement to supply puppets to other civil affairs and medical Soldiers working in Baqubah. They call the outreach program “Peace Through Puppets”.
Reges initially distributed two-dozen stuffed animal hand puppets to Soldiers in his unit. He said the puppets have helped Soldiers build hope, extend compassion and overcome the language barrier.
“When I see a child, I stop and reach into my cargo pocket. I pull out a small puppet. The reaction is immediate,” Reges said.
He said the response has been nothing but positive from children and the adults that are with them at the time they receive the small gesture of peace.
So far, Regis estimates he has given out about 200 pocket puppets.
“I feel small things will make the difference here. This is a small thing, but you never know where it will end.”
“Peace Through Puppets” is a volunteer, non-profit organization staffed by mothers, wives and friends of Soldiers serving in Iraq. For additional information, log on to www.peacethroughpuppets.com or e-mail Peacethrupuppets@aol.com