Iraq

U.S. actor, author providing school supplies to Iraqi students

Gifts from their organization distributed to children by U.S. soldiers

Washington - U.S. soldiers in Iraq are doing more than conducting military operations: They're also handing out much needed school supplies to Iraq's children. And for the past year, some of those supplies have been provided by a small nongovernmental organization founded together by an American actor and a bestselling author.

"Operation Iraq Children" (OIC) was begun in March 2004 by actor Gary Sinise and author Laura Hillenbrand. Sinise played "Lieutenant Dan" in the film Forrest Gump and is known for his role as a detective in the hit television series CSI: NY. Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit: An American Legend, a book about a champion racehorse that was made into a feature film.

Sinise says he began the project after visiting an Iraqi school where he "saw a tremendous need" for basic school supplies and then "became aware that this was the norm for most of the schools in Iraq."

Sinise originally shipped 25 boxes of school supplies in January 2004. Since OIC was founded it has sent 40 additional shipments to Iraq -- most recently on July 29. To date more than 200,000 school kits have been shipped, according to the OIC site.

A typical kit contains scissors, a ruler, regular and colored pencils, a sharpener, an eraser, notebook paper, a composition book, some folders and a zippered pencil bag. OIC estimates the kit's value at $15, which would make for an estimated donation value of approximately $3 million.

Sinise's efforts drew the attention of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who visited the actor in Los Angeles August 4 on the set of CSI: NY. According to the American Forces Press Service, Rumsfeld told CSI: NY cast members about "all the wonderful things [Sinise] has done for the men and women in uniform across the country" and thanked the actor for his personal support for U.S. troops. Rumsfeld and Sinise both said they hoped OIC can be expanded into Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld is not the only administration official to praise OIC and Sinise. First lady Laura Bush has written a testimonial, which is prominently displayed on the OIC Web site. Sinise and Hillenbrand "have put a great deal of time and effort into learning the needs of Iraqi children and putting this program into effect," the testimonial reads.

Mrs. Bush writes that "[Sinise] has gone to Iraq and seen for himself the staggering need for school supplies and books." The first lady added that she greatly admires Sinise and Hillenbrand for "using their fame and accomplishments in the most American of ways -- to help their neighbors."

Additional information about the school supplies program is available at the OIC Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)