By: Carly O'Keefe
MT. VERNON, Ill. - As the son of a teacher, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Josh Johnson, formerly of Mt. Vernon spent a lot of time in many classrooms, but he said he had never seen any classroom like the ones he's seen as a soldier in Iraq.
"One school was a pre-school, they had exposed wires, cracks in the walls," said Johnson. "At the majority of the schools they're sitting three-four to a desk, and they're cramped in. Over there it's a privilege to go to school."
Johnson said he felt compelled to do something to brighten the school day for Iraqi students in his region, and he enlisted his "troops" back home (also known as mom and grandma) to help him do it.
"When he first started going to the schools, he'd send pictures and say ‘Mom, you've got to see these schools', with the stark walls and bullet holes," said mother, Dottie Johnson.
Dottie Johnson organized a school supply drive in Mt. Vernon. She shipped the supplies collected overseas for Johnson's platoon to sort and hand out to more than 600 Iraqi children.
"You'd hand something to them, and they'd just start jumping around," he said. "They were happy and they'd run off they'd get so excited to get to school and use the supplies."
They are just pens and pencils, notebooks and crayons, but according to Johnson, those small gifts and other acts of humanitarian aid to Iraqi families and communities make a difference.
"We were in Muhmudiyah, Iraq, which up until a couple of years ago was one of the worst places to go," Johnson said. "It was comparable to Fallujah or Ramadi you couldn't drive anywhere. Now we are greeted with open arms and we can walk down the street with no problems because of all the programs we've done."