AR RAMAMDI, Iraq -- In addition to rooting out insurgent activity, Cpl. Kelly P. Baker and a group of Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, are also on a mission to bring joy to the lives of Iraqi children.
The 21-year-old team leader from New Town, N.D., and his comrades with 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, Company C, use candy and toys to accomplish this task.
“Whenever we come out here on patrols,” explained the 2002 New Town High School graduate, “we always bring gifts to give to the little kids.”
Each day Baker and 1st Platoon Marines hit the streets in their company’s area of operations and conduct missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Children in the neighborhoods the Marines patrol through have come to associate their presence with presents, he said.
“We’re always giving them candy and toys,” he said. “They’ll usually come running when they see us because they know we’ll give them something.”
First Platoon recently conducted a cordon and knock in several neighborhoods for the purpose of finding members of the insurgents and foreign fighters.
With weapons loaded and cargo pockets full of candy, watches, coloring books and crayons, the Marines took to the town well equipped to handle whatever might confront them.
Midway through the mission, 2nd Squad searched a large house where several children live.
Lance Cpl. Robert P. Rodriguez, a squad automatic machine gunner with 2nd Squad, gave a young Iraqi girl a Timex educational toy that teaches how to tell time and count money.
“She was very happy when I gave it to her,” the 23-year-old from Lexington, Texas, said as he walked out of the house. “Her dad seemed pleased I gave it to her, too,” added the 2000 Lexington High School graduate.
The Marines continued patrolling through the area and were met by scores of children a block from the residence they just searched.
“They saw us coming their way from far off and start gathering in the street,” Baker said. “They were so happy when we got to them and they just swarmed us.”
Baker passed out coloring books and crayons while other Marines gave out candy and other gifts.
“They’re always so happy to see us,” said 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Nathan L. Stevenson, a rifleman with 2nd Squad and native of Seneca, Wis. “It’s a shame we can’t give them more,” added the 2001 Seneca High School graduate.
Getting youngsters to smile makes baking in the hot, Iraqi sun for hours on end worth the effort, Baker said.
“Their faces light up when give them gifts,” he said. “It motivates me and makes our mission worth all the hard work and sweat.”
The Marines finished their mission without incident and gave out all their gifts. According to Baker, they accomplished the mission of bringing joy to some children.
“We did some good today because those children are going to remember the kindness we showed to them,” he said. “It’s rewarding to help out and give them things that we often take for granted back in the states. It feels good knowing we’re giving them a little bit of happiness.”