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Reservists help get wheelchairs to needy Iraqi children

Members of the 185th Air Mobility Wing begin loading four crates of children's wheelchairs onto a C-130 June 11, 2009, in Sioux City, Iowa. A C-130 aircrew from Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., transported the wheelchairs to Andrews AFB, Md., where a larger cargo plane transported the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian McReynolds)

Members of the 185th Air Mobility Wing begin loading four crates of children's wheelchairs onto a C-130 June 11, 2009, in Sioux City, Iowa. A C-130 aircrew from Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., transported the wheelchairs to Andrews AFB, Md., where a larger cargo plane transported the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Brian McReynolds)

In this undated photo, an Airman helps custom fit a pediatric wheelchair for an Iraqi child. A C-130 aircrew from the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew wheelchairs like this one to Andrews AFB, Md., where another plane took the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy photo/Brad Blasuer)

In this undated photo, an Airman helps custom fit a pediatric wheelchair for an Iraqi child. A C-130 aircrew from the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew wheelchairs like this one to Andrews AFB, Md., where another plane took the wheelchairs to Baghdad, Iraq. (Courtesy photo/Brad Blasuer)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- After a brief stop in America's Heartland, an Air Force Reserve C-130 aircrew from here took another step in a long journey for a special load of cargo headed for Iraq.

On June 11, reservists from the 302nd Airlift Wing flew to Sioux City, Iowa, where they received four pallets of children's wheelchairs. The 115 wheelchairs, donated by Hope Haven International Ministries of Rock Valley, Iowa, will be handed out to children in the Baghdad area by Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C.

"It really gives you a good feeling when you think about all the children who will benefit from this humanitarian mission," said Capt. Brian McReynolds, aircraft commander for the mission to Sioux City. "This will be my first Denton mission, and I'm thankful for this opportunity to represent the Air Force Reserve and to participate in such a noble cause."

The Denton Amendment gives the Department of Defense the authority to use extra space on U.S. military cargo aircraft to transport humanitarian assistance materials donated by non-governmental organizations, international organizations and private voluntary organizations for humanitarian relief.

The wheelchairs will go children in Baghdad who are in dire need for mobility, specifically specialized pediatric wheelchairs, said officials in the Denton humanitarian mission office at Charleston AFB, S.C. They said the "(children) are currently dragging themselves along the ground, resulting in contact with open waste and debris in the street which proves harmful and even fatal to the health of the children."

Kenneth Hundemer, operations manager for the Denton office at Charleston, hopes the wheelchairs will go to those who need them most.

"The Department of Defense puts forth a significant amount of energy supporting humanitarian efforts wherever they have the ability to do so," Mr. Hundemer said. "If you take a look at all the people involved ... you will identify a lot of folks that make this humanitarian mission happen."

After picking up the wheelchairs in Sioux City, the C-130 crew flew to Andrews AFB, Md., where the wheelchairs were put on a larger cargo plane and flown to Baghdad. For security reasons, details of the wheelchair delivery are not available to protect not only U.S. and Iraqi military personnel, but also the children expected to receive the wheelchairs. Volunteers will custom fit the wheelchairs for each child.

The Denton office coordinated delivery of the chairs with the "Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids" program, which to date has distributed more than 600 wheelchairs to Iraqi children and adults.

"Without the U.S. Air Force Reserve to provide critical transport of these kids' wheelchairs, the disabled kids of Iraq would still be either pulling themselves along the streets or in their homes relegated to a life on the floor," wrote Brad Blauser of Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids via e-mail from Baghdad. "The Air Force Reserve plays a vital role in helping these kids get the humanitarian aid they need so desperately."  (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)