Hillenbrand, Actor Gary Sinise Launch Operation Iraqi Children

Hillenbrand, Actor Gary Sinise Launch Operation Iraqi Children
Photo: OIC
Operation Iraqi Children co-founder Gary Sinise, with Iraqi school children on recent visit.
Author Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit: An American Legend) and actor Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13) have announced the launch of Operation Iraqi Children, a program that will enable Americans to send school supplies and Arabic translations of Seabiscuit to Iraqi children.

Hillenbrand said all royalties from the project will be invested in more books for the Iraqi kids. "During and after Operation Iraqi Freedom, American soldiers passing through Iraqi villages were horrified at the squalor of Iraqi schools, which had been severely neglected under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," Hillenbrand said. "Corralled in sweltering one-room buildings without air conditioning, fans, windows, solid floors, or even toilets, Iraqi students lacked even the rudimentary supplies that American children take for granted. Libraries and books are almost nonexistent. Without these basic tools of education, Iraqi children face an uphill struggle to learn.

"Imagine sending your child to a school in which there are virtually no books, no pencils, no paper, no blackboards. This is the reality for Iraqi children. The future of the Iraqi nation is being squandered for lack of basic school supplies."

Moved by the plight of these children, many American soldiers took it upon themselves to help. Working in small groups on their days off, soldiers gather supplies sent by family members and church groups and take them to villages, sometimes coming under fire as they work to reconstruct the schools and deliver learning tools to Iraqi kids. Their efforts have met with immense gratitude from local Iraqis and their children, who now have access to the basic tools of education for the first time in their lives.

"I have seen Iraqi kids climbing on our soldiers and hugging them and kissing them," remembers Sinise, who recently accompanied Army soldiers to a dilapidated school they were rebuilding. "I have seen their smiling faces and their attempts to say 'I love you' in broken English. The folks I saw had hope in their eyes and gratitude in their hearts for what was done for them."

Unfortunately, the need for help is so great and widespread, encompassing some 1,500 schools, that our soldiers' efforts cannot possibly answer the entire problem. The situation is critical. "The future of Iraq lies in the education of its children," says Hillenbrand. "We owe it to them, and to the hundreds of American men and women who gave their lives to bring them freedom, to give these children the basic tools of learning."

Inspired by their conversations with Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers as well as Sinise's recent tour of the region, Sinise and Hillenbrand founded Operation Iraqi Children, a grass roots program to provide concerned Americans with a means to reach out to Iraqi kids and help support our soldiers' efforts to assist the Iraqi people. The operation consists of two programs:

* Through the school supplies program, American children can help their Iraqi counterparts by gathering school supplies in school-wide drives, then sending them to a military base in Iraq, where our soldiers will take them to Iraqi villages.

* Through the Seabiscuit program, operated through Thoroughbred Charities of America, Americans can make tax-deductible donations that will be used to purchase very low cost Arabic translations of the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend, to be given to Iraqi children. This program is fully non-profit, and all author royalties will be reinvested in more books for the children. Like the school supplies, Arabic copies of Seabiscuit will be delivered to Iraqi schoolchildren by U.S. military personnel.

Sinise, Hillenbrand and the organizers of Operation Iraqi Children believe that the benefits of this program will reach far beyond the recipients of supplies and books. By bringing Americans and Iraqis together and demonstrating American devotion to the welfare of the Iraqi people, the program can foster understanding between our nations and generate goodwill between Iraqis and American soldiers. "Every time a book or a box of school supplies is delivered by our troops it will be another small victory for them in helping win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis," says Sinise. "It is a beautiful way to begin a relationship with the future leaders of Iraq. They have been forgotten for so long. Now there is a chance for them."

For more information and details on how you can help, go to www.operationiraqichildren.org. For interview requests, contact Meagan Armstrong at Polaris PR at Meagan_Armstrong@polarispr.com or 323-939-7535 ext. 106.

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