Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Eva's Foot Soldier

Shoes arriving for Iraqi children, women, thanks to county Guardsman
By Ronnie Thomas

Iraqi children on a Baghdad street ran up to the Humvee, their arms outstretched.
Maj. James B. Pugh of Eva, in his second tour with the Army National Guard, began handing out toys and candy.

Most of the children he sees are barefoot. And that is what struck the heart of the 45-year-old soldier. He sent photos home to his wife, Jacquie, and to his mother, Betsy Pugh, in Huntsville.

"Mother said she noticed we had given them toys. 'Send more toys?' " Pugh said she asked in a letter. "I wrote back and said, 'Toys are nice, but look around in the attic for old shoes, whatever you have. The kids and women here need shoes worse.' "

Betsy Pugh's Sunday school class at Southside Baptist Church had a shoe drive.
"Saturday, we got four boxes of brand new shoes from the church, probably 50 or 60 pairs," James Pugh said Monday from Baghdad. "We took them over to a women's clinic at the Civil Military Operations Center on the edge of the base and handed them out. We could have used twice that."

Pugh said Iraqi women and children come to the clinic three days a week.

"As part of CMOC, doctors have started to collect old shoes and clothes from soldiers' families, and they put them together in care packages," Pugh said. "It's making a difference, but we need a lot more help. We've got a limited supply and a whole lot of kids and women."

After getting her husband's call about the shoe shortage at the clinic, Jacquie Pugh spent the day at thrift shops in Eva, Priceville and Hartselle, and the Salvation Army, places "I thought I could afford to buy shoes in bulk. They helped me and gave me a cut on the prices."

She said she got 81 pairs which she boxed and mailed Monday.

Earlier, on a chance meeting, his wife found another shoe outlet.

She was at a continuing education course in Montgomery and heard about Soles4Souls, an organization that collects and sends shoes to people in need worldwide. Shoe companies, retailers and individuals can donate footwear, both new and used, to Soles4Souls, which has a distribution center in Wadley.

"I didn't know a whole lot about how the program works until my wife contacted them," Pugh said. "Part of their work is taking donations, buying inexpensive shoes and sending them to Third World countries. They did not have a place where they could send out shoes to Iraq. They do now. They've already contacted me, and we've kind of organized. I'm excited to get hooked up. We're waiting on our first shipment of shoes, and we should get them soon. If people are so led do donate, it's a good thing. I certainly encourage it."

Pugh said shoes are needed mostly in Iraq for children ages 12 and under and for women.
"I'm sure there are people who have old shoes around that went out of style, shoes that they'd never wear again," Pugh said. "Those would be a heck of a lot better than shoes I see on people here, those that are fortunate enough to have them. Quite honestly, some kids don't have shoes. It's incredibly hot here in the summer, but it gets cold in the winter. I saw a couple of little girls standing out there, barefoot and shivering. That will get to you."

Pugh said that unfortunately, Iraqi society gravitates toward the males.

"They'll spend money on shoes for little boys," he said. "Much of the time, little girls are left without."

Pugh, a 1986 graduate of Auburn University with a degree in physics, became an engineer licensed in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. His first deployment to Iraq was to Mosul with the 877th Engineer Battalion of Hamilton in 2003.

His second deployment to Baghdad is with the 1169th Engineer Group of Huntsville. He assists with engineering designs for facilities at various forward operating bases, joint security stations and Iraqi Army facilities.

"The north and south of the country by all aspects appear fairly calm," Pugh said. "In my dealings with the Iraqi Army, they have come a long way since my first tour."

He said that Iraqis "seem to be, by and large, friendly people who are weary and understandably tired of the war. But all in all, they seem to have a fairly good attitude. The driving force behind them is they have eternal hope. They're in difficult times and in situations that we as Americans can't fathom."

Pugh said that although there is a certain amount of "ingrained cynicism" among Iraqis, they want "basically the same kind of result that we want, a stable government and a peaceful land. I think the enemy we face has changed a little bit. There are far more outside influences than the first time I was here."

He said that support from home for both himself and his family has made his deployment easier. The Pughs have two sons, Jameson, 20, a sophomore at Auburn, and Jackson, 16, a ninth-grader at Brewer High School.

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