Operation Dreamseed: Going ‘Above And Beyond’ For The Kids of Afghanistan
November 16, 2007
We’ve often said that one of the most important things our Troops do, when they’re deployed to war-torn countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, is the work they do to help the local citizens. Not only does this help the people of those areas to live a better life, but it also goes a long ways in developing relationships with these people, which in turn makes it easier for our Troops to conduct their missions. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our Troops are doing everything possible to improve living conditions for the citizens of these countries. For many, with children of their own at home, seeing the children living in these conditions really tears at their hearts and they strive to do whatever necessary to help these children. Building that trust and rapport with the local citizenry, showing them that the American Troops can be trusted to help them, also helps with the mission, when it comes time to gain information about the enemy. This in turn, could save the lives of both local citizens and the Troops.
In 2004, when Major Todd Schmidt heard that he would be deploying to Afghanistan with the 25th Infantry Division, he began making plans for how he could help the impoverished people who were living in Afghanistan. The desire to help Afghanistan’s people eventually turned into the formation of a nonprofit organization called Operation Dreamseed. The group to date has enabled Troops to distribute tons of school supplies to the children of Afghanistan.
On Monday, Major Schmidt was recognized by the USO and Microsoft Corporation, with the Above and Beyond award, in the Everyday Difference Category. These awards were created to recognize the contributions of American citizens who brighten the lives of US Troops around the world.
Currently Major Schmidt is stationed at the Pentagon and still finds about 20 hours a week to work with the nonprofit organization that he created, to ensure that donated backpacks are filled with pens, paper, crayons, toys and candy and then sent to Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, who then distribute the backpacks to the local school children in their area of operations.
“When we would drive into these villages, you’d see these kids running around bare-faced, in torn clothes, dirt smeared on their faces, hair all unkempt. And you’re like, man, these guys are in a bad condition here,” Major Schmidt said. “All that goes away when you give them school supplies; they just get this smile that beams from ear-to-ear. It’s a transformation that you’d really like to see take place, because they walk away, and they’re so proud to go home with this backpack that they’re going to be able to take to school with them every day now.”
Major Schmidt is humble about what he’s done, saying that a lot of the credit goes to members of the American public who sent his unit hundreds of care packages each week. He said that they always wrote thank-you notes and told the folks that they appreciated their generosity very much, but that they had everything they needed. They would then ask their supporters to send school supplies for the children. According to Major Schmidt, many of the Afghan children, attend schools in tents. The response to their request was overwhelming, and quickly evolved into the nonprofit, Operation Dreamseed. Operation Dreamseed, has grown successful beyond Major Schmidt’s dreams, even being able to help build a school in Kandahar City by raising $80,000.
When it became time for their unit to redeploy home, the unit which replaced them, was only too happy to contine the project that they had started. As units have rotated in and out of the area of operation, other units and members of other military branches have become involved.
“They knew that it would help them to build good will and relations with the villages they would be patrolling in every day,” Maj. Schmidt said. “When the Soldiers are over there, passing out school supplies, interacting with the community, there’s a trust that begins to build there, a bond. You visit these villages over and over again and you can’t just go there and ask for information or expect them to provide you with things that you need. You have to give to them as well.”
“You see a lot of these Soldier-initiated activities, whether it’s to collect winter clothes, to collect shoes,” he said. “There are some amazing things Soldiers are doing over there, and it’s having a very real impact at the tactical level on how these units are able to build relationships with the community.”
When he heard about the Above and Beyond awards, Maj. Schmidt had contacted the volunteers with Operation Dreamseed and encouraged them to nominate someone they thought made a difference for Soldiers. Never in his wildest dreams, did he think that they’d nominate him. Once he found out he’d been nominated, he didn’t think he’d win, as the voting was done by the public, by an online vote.
“It’s pretty humbling because if you look at the other people who won, they’ve achieved amazing things,” he said. “There’s a sister and brother who have literally raised over a million dollars to help Soldiers pay for their phone bills and issue calling cards to Soldiers. That’s a phenomenal effort. There’s a Vietnam helicopter pilot who’s logged hundreds and hundreds of hours flying Family members to see their injured loved ones. You think abou being thrown in with people who make this sort of sacrifice and it’s really humbling.”
What Major Schmidt has been able to achieve, with the help of the American public is fantastic. Not only has he brought joy and hope to the children of Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, but his work, is the cornerstone that helps the Troops on the ground in these countries, to build a trusting relationship with these children and their family members. One look at these photos of the children is enough to convince me that the project Major Schmidt started is indeed making a difference. Please take some time to visit the Operation Dreamseed website and read about the work they’re doing to help the children.