June 4, 2009

Virginia Guard thanks Short Pump Elementary for Afghanistan donations

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard recognized Short Pump Elementary School in Richmond May 29 for its efforts in gathering used sporting goods to send to children in Afghanistan. Leaders from the Virginia Army National Guard and the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion greeted students as they arrived at school to say “thank you” for their efforts and also presented certificates of appreciation to the school.

  Short Pump Elementary School

Senior leaders from the Virginia National Guard and the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion presented certificates of appreciation to Short Pump Elementary School in Richmond May 29 for their efforts in gathering used sporting goods to send to children in Afghanistan. Front row from left to right, 1st Lt. Bennie Urban,  Melissa Passehland Brig. Gen. Steve Huxtable. Back row from left to right, Maj. David Kaulfers and Master Sgt. Michael Higgins. Urban is the 276th Engineer Battalion rear detachment commander, Passehl is the principal of Short Pump Elementary School, Huxtable is the Assistant Adjutant General of Virginia-Army, Kaulfers is the operations officer for 91st Troop Command and Higgins is the operations noncommissioned officer for 91st Troop Command. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“We are so proud of what Short Pump Elementary has done to help support families in a war-torn country and very proud of the 276th Engineer Battalion to play a significant role in delivery of the clothing and sporting equipment to help improve the quality of life for the families living in the 276th Engineers area of operations,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen L. Huxtable, Assistant Adjutant General of Virginia for Army.

 “We are very happy to have the Virginia National Guard here today,” said Melissa Passehl, principal of Short Pump Elementary School. Passehl said the school has been working all year on community service projects with their PTA and told the students “What a great opportunity to finish with this one so you understand and know what impact you have not only in Richmond, but across the entire world.”

Maj. Chris Doss, the operations officer for the 276th Engineer Battalion, contacted the principal and Parent Teacher Association from Short Pump in late 2008 to let them know about his pending deployment to Afghanistan. The school conducted a similar project in 2004 when Doss was deployed to Iraq, and students donated over 30 boxes of school supplies that were handed out to two schools in Tal Afar, Iraq. 

Doss said the school came through again, this time with donations of used sporting goods like soccer balls, soccer and football jerseys, baseballs, footballs, soccer shorts and socks. In addition to this particular project, Doss said the school has always shown great support to deployed Soldiers by sending letters, care packages and pictures. Doss has a daughter who currently attends Short Pump Elementary.

In early April, Doss visited the villages Margah and Balay Kalay in the East Paktika province to deliver the 13 large boxes of donated equipment and athletic clothing.

  Gift to Afghan children

An Afghan child displays a football jersey donated by Short Pump Elementary School in early April. The school collected soccer balls,  soccer and football jerseys, baseballs, footballs, soccer shorts and socks and Maj. Chris Doss, the operations officer for 276th Engineer Battalion (left), handed the donations out in the villages of Margah and Balay Kalay in the East Paktika province. (Contributed photo)

“We were mobbed by the children, but there were lots of smiles and much appreciation from both the adults and the children,” Doss said.  “We paired up with the Afghan National Army for our visits and talked with the village elders about how conditions were in their village and what the ANA and U.S. forces could do to help.”

During the visit, Doss said the locals noticed the unit’s medic and asked for medical assistance.

“There was a little child, about 18-20 months, who had injured his hand pretty badly, so our medic cleaned up his hand, re-wrapped it in clean gauze, and gave the little child a Blow-Pop - that was all it took to gain a smile,” Doss said.

“Overall it was a great day and much thanks goes to the students at Short Pump Elementary for making it possible,” he said. “The children of Afghanistan do not lead easy lives and to have received these gifts from fellow children more than 7,100 miles away is simply amazing.”

About 200 Soldiers from the 276th Engineer Battalion mobilized for federal active duty in early December 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The primary mission for the unit is providing route clearance and Improvised Explosive Device defeat to coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.

The battalion headquarters provides command and control for three National Guard engineer companies from California, Michigan and Wisconsin and one active duty engineer company.

The 276th Engineer Battalion last deployed to Iraq from March 2004 to March 2005. 

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