Utah Group Working to Win Hearts, Minds

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2007 - "Operation Give" is working to help the military win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

"Our philosophy is that we want to be part of a solution, a solution of helping the soldiers build a bridge and build that bond with the people," Paul Holton, the group's founder, said. "Winning the hearts and minds is a difficult task."

Operation Give is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.

The group was founded in fall 2003 while Holton, a chief warrant officer in the Utah National Guard, was serving as an interrogator in Baghdad.

Holton was out in the city when he heard a young girl crying. He said his heart went out to the scared child and he gave her a small toy.

"I wanted to relive that experience, being able to give to the children and let them know that there is hope," Holton said.

So he began asking friends and family to send small toys for the servicemembers to hand out to the children.

"It kind of went from there to the point where we had thousands and thousands of boxes of stuff that people had sent us," Holton said. "We were getting just ... inundated with items (from) people who wanted to participate in the war in a positive way," he added.

The Utah-based operation has continued to grow and has since shipped more than 55 semi-truck loads of donated items, Holton said. Each of those trucks holds a little more than 1,000 large boxes of goods that have been distributed to thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.

While Operation Give's main focus is providing needed items for the Iraqi and Afghan people, during the holidays, it focuses on the troops. As part of its "Operation Christmas Stocking," the group collects goodies to send to servicemembers. "This is the one time we reach out for them and send them foot powder or candy or whatever it is," Holton said.

Holton said he wants his group to be part of a long-term solution. To accomplish this, Operation Give is broadening its scope so it can help the military win hearts and minds wherever it's active in the world.

"Our main focus is actually to create jobs (and) industries with these people so that we set them up, perhaps with a way to earn a living," Holton said. "We think that if they have money to provide for their families, they won't turn to al Qaeda.

He said Operation Give is working with corporations around the world to make use of excess goods stored in warehouses. Those unused and overstocked items can be used to help future entrepreneurs set up shop and earn a living and reconnect with the world economy.

"We're going to, with this stuff, build a new hope, a new future for them," he said.

The contacts Holton's group has made as a member of America Supports You may just help him accomplish this goal.

"I've been exposed to other groups and ... people wanting to do similar things," he said. "We've really pooled our resources in many ways. We've helped them (and) they've helped us.

"Collectively we've created this synergy, this movement to let the soldiers know that we care about them; that we haven't forgotten about them, that we're here for them," he said. "I think that's actually the most important thing, is that they know that we're here."

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