Marines, Rotarians roll out help in Iraq

10 Jul 2003 | Army Spc. Benjamin R. Kibbey

Service members with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment have assembled and distributed wheelchairs to local hospitals in need of new medical equipment.

The wheelchairs are part of 550 donated throughout the Middle East by the Rotary Club District 5240 of Santa Barbara County, Calif.

Of those shipped to the Middle East, 250 went to Iraq.

"District 5240 raised the money to pay for these wheelchairs, which they got from us," said Don Schoendorfer, founder and president of the Free Wheelchair Mission, a charity that donated the wheelchairs, in an email.  "Our wheelchairs are made in China and shipped to developing countries.   We require that the wheelchairs be donated at no cost to the poorest of the poor.  To date, we have shipped over 10,000 wheelchairs, and Rotary District 5240 is one of our biggest partners in this effort."

The wheelchairs are basic in design, but that means they will be simpler to repair, he said.

They were also a welcome sight to those in the Iraqi medical who have received them thus far.

"We are very grateful for receiving these wheelchairs," said Dr. Ali Mayu Fahad, the manager of a small hospital in nearby Aim Al Tamr after receiving two of the donated wheelchairs.  "We needed them for a few weeks, so that is very nice."

There are two main hospitals in Karbala and a number of smaller hospitals located in surrounding areas in the Karbala province.

"I think in that location, two wheelchairs will be a big help," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel J Colgan, 59, from Keedysville, Md., the noncommissioned officer in charge of the battalion's governate support team.  "Should the need arise, it's something they can repair and keep going."

Members of Headquarters and Support Company assembled the wheelchairs, which arrived in boxes.

"I'm glad we can help in a way," said Cpl. David R Anderson, a Bradenton, Fla. resident and Headquarters and Support Co. team leader who helped to assemble the wheelchairs.  "I'm just glad we can help to get this stuff closer to being finished.  The faster we can get this stuff together, the faster I can get my boys home."

Army Maj. Suzanne Reethof-Bower, from Blue Bell, Pa., and an Army reservist with the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, based in Philadelphia, Pa., is a member of the battalion's medical team that arranged delivery of the two wheelchairs.

"It's a small start to show we haven't forgotten about you," she said to Fahad.

"Wheelchairs are hard to come by here. Outside of Baghdad, nowhere else in Iraq could you get these," said Reethof-Bower.

As much as the wheelchairs have helped, there is still need for more assistance to the people of Karbala, said Colgan.

"I feel that we might have located the tip of the iceberg," he said.  "A couple of times I felt like we've made some large strides, but as I step back and look, I realize we just located the tip of the iceberg"

The help of nongovernmental organizations such as the Rotary Club is a great boon to the tireless efforts of coalition personnel.

"My understanding is that Rotary plans to send hundreds of wheelchairs to Iraq and Afghanistan," said Schoendorfer.