FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMAYAH — Before she deployed, Spc. Diana Sokol used to listen to Soldiers tell stories about how Iraqi children asked them for soccer balls and other items.
She would see photos of kids in the city with virtually nothing but the clothes on their back and always knew she would take action once deployed.
So when the medic from Plano, Texas, and member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, attached to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based out of Fort Benning, Ga., arrived here, she started her goodwill mission.
Sokol’s mission of goodwill included helping to secure soccer balls and other toys for children caught up in the war, even though she may never be able to personally pass them out herself with her duties as a medic keeping her at her forward operating base.
“There is more than just fighting a war, we are supposed to help the Iraqis while we are here as well,” she said.
To date, Sokol has acquired more than 300 soccer balls and 500 hundred stuffed animals that were distributed to children within the “Strike Force Brigade’s” area of operation.
She said she’s nowhere near finished.
“Americans are very generous and would often send gift boxes of supplies to me, which I really appreciate, but how many bars of soap and toothpaste can you use on one deployment?” Sokol asked.
She started asking her friends and family to send toys for the children instead. At first, the toys came in sporadically which was easy to maintain, but after a while, it got a little out of control and space became an issue.
By word of mouth, information spread quickly through her family, friends and their co-workers and more people started to donate. A friend of Sokol’s, who works at Texas Instruments, started a toy drive and was able to collect over 500 soccer balls during the drive, the biggest one-time donation to date.
Numerous other small businesses like soccer shops in the Dallas Fort Worth area, along with individual donations, also helped immensely. Beanie Babies Ambassadors alone donated 300 stuffed animals to be shipped, and soon Sokol’s room became a small warehouse.
“I will continue to give out toys for as long as I am here and hopefully someone else will continue,” Sokol said. “Now, units come to me before going out on missions asking for toys and soccer balls for the kids.
“I don’t believe all Iraqis don’t care for Americans,” she said. “It’s just a small group of individuals that continue placing IEDs that make the general population look bad and I don’t want the children to suffer because of it.”