Fallen soldier honored by donations to Iraqi children

Sgt. Nathan Barnes's family says he told them of his concern for the most vulnerable victims of war.

When Donna Barnes saw a photo of a smiling Iraqi child in a new wheelchair, the significance of her family's donations hit home.

"It's just been a release for us to do this," says Ms. Barnes, mother of Sgt. Nathan Barnes, a Utah soldier killed in Iraq last July. "It's helped with our grief. It's helped give purpose to what happened to Nathan."

After her son's death, the family asked people to donate money to charity to honor him instead of sending flowers.

"Nathan was very concerned about the children of Iraq," Barnes says. "We knew that we wanted to do something that way and we were concerned about fellow soldiers."

A family friend, RoseAnn Gunther, came up with the idea to send donations to Iraq and agreed to lead the project. They quickly amassed about $13,000.

"We had way more money than anyone would have ever spent on flowers collected," Barnes says.

The Barneses and others in Utah County then asked for donations of items such as sewing machines, book bags, food, toys, clothing, school supplies, and wheelchairs. Their efforts filled a 40-foot shipping container, which was sent to Rushdi Mullah and Yusifiyah, places where Barnes had served in Iraq.

On March 27, 1st Lt. Casey Zimmerman of Santa Barbara, Calif., and others helped distribute the goods to more than 1,500 people at a school in a poor community in Mullah Fayad.

"I made a point at the beginning to convey who Nathan Barnes was, how he died, and what kind of loving family and country he belonged to," Lieutenant Zimmerman said in a statement released by the US Army.

The shipment impressed members of the Iraqi Army.

"A soldier who came from thousands of miles away and was killed here, his family spends money to rebuild this area," Brig. Gen. Ali Jassim Muhammad Hassen Al Frejee said in a statement. "We have to respect that."

Barnes says she's received letters from her son's former captains saying how the gifts changed people's hearts.

"They see the soldiers are not just people who do war on them but people who help them," she says.

One gift had many children puzzled: a Frisbee.

"They thought it was a serving plate, so we had to engage with the kids for a few throws until they got the idea," Capt. Michael Starz of Pittsburgh says.

The Barneses' donation is one of 61 containers shipped so far through Operation Give, a Utah-based humanitarian group.

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