Emmanuel Baptist sent school supplies to soldier in Iraq to distribute

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

A group of teachers and school children in Iraq received a gift from the heart of Texas this week, when an Alice soldier handed them school supplies donated by an Alice church.

SFC Gilbrando Garza, a 1982 graduate of Alice High School, distributed the supplies Tuesday at a school in the town of Baquba, in the Diyala Province of Iraq.

Garza was ordered to Iraq in May as part of a Military Transition Team, a group of 10 soldiers who serve as advisors to the Iraqi Army.

The group advises the Iraqi Army on communication, medical issues, administration, intelligence and leadership, but also conduct civil affairs in the regions in which they are stationed.

Garza received the supplies last month from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alice, the church his mother attends.

Associate Pastor Noe Trevino said Friday the church came up with the plan to donate supplies at the request of several people in the congregation.

"Our parents and our children were purchasing school supplies for their schools in early August, and several of the parents and children started asking about the children in Iraq," Trevino said. "They asked if we could send some school supplies to (Garza) so he could distribute them over there."

That collection eventually resulted in six large boxes of school supplies, which were sent to Garza in September.

On Tuesday, Garza and his team met up with members of the Iraqi Army and went to distribute the items at the school.

In a series of emails, Garza described the scene. Students were divided up into one line of girls and one line of boys, standing ready to accept the donated supplies and other items purchased from a local vendor.

"At first the girls lined up nice and neat and the items were being distributed, but at a slow pace," Garza said. "It was very unorganized and I took it upon myself to start distributing school items to the teachers."

As time ticked away and the lines did not seem to get any shorter, Garza and his team became aware that the longer they stayed, the more the risk to the team and the school grew.

"We didn't want to stay too long, because the longer we stayed the longer Al-Qaida had to react to spoil a good gesture," Garza said.

Eventually, in an effort to limit their exposure, the team gave the remaining items to the school's principal and left the area.

"As we left, the children gave us thumbs up, and one kid asked me in English if we were coming tomorrow," Garza said. "The kids could be seen with some of the school items and smiles on their faces. It's a good feeling, but we understand staying in an area too long can spoil our mission, so we left."

Once they were safely back to their base, Garza said his team relaxed and enjoyed the completion of a successful mission.

"The job is a success if no one gets hurt and no incident occurs," Garza said. "After wards, it was considered a successful mission and a stress relief that no serious incident occurred.

"My team is very proud of the mission and I plan on continuing to conduct other Civil Military Operation missions."

Garza, who has three children, was lucky enough to draw leave time during Christmas, and is looking forward to seeing his family.

Before he comes home, however, he may have another mission handed to him by the Alice church.

Pastor Trevino said the church is now planning to send another shipment of care packages with gifts for children at Christmas.

"It's really neat to see the folks in the church thinking outside the walls of the church, and outside the borders of our own country, and thinking of others across the world," Trevino said.

As for Garza, he said he is thankful for the opportunity to show the positive impact he and his team are having on the Iraq effort.

"I would like to thank everyone who supports our soldiers from Alice and the surrounding areas," Garza said. "I wish they could see the progress we are making with the Iraq Army, and see all the positive stories in Iraq."