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Bears bring smiles in Iraq
7 December 2004
by Cynthia Balliett, UTTC Teacher Ed Instructor

Iraqi Girl cuddling bear
It all started with this little girl, cuddling a bear from North Dakota, who lives near Tikrit, Iraq. Sgt. Carl Quam Jr. of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion wanted to do something special for her because she made his patrol duty brighter with waves and smiles.

BISMARCK, ND - The Teddy Bears arrived in Iraq. Thanks to the UTTC Teacher Education Vocational Student Organization (TEVSO) and other generous people, Iraqi children are smiling.

      The last boxes of teddy bears, collected at UTTC, were shipped off in early December, bringing the story of "Operation Teddy Bear" to a satisfying close. About 2,600 teddy bears were sent, according to teacher education advisor Leah Hamann, who was chiefly responsible for directing the operation. Postage was paid by generous donations from UTTC staff, students, and people in surrounding communities.

      "This is a very positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved," said Hamann. "The students have learned first-hand how to make a difference in the lives of children."

Sgt. Carl Quam Jr.
"Honestly, I only expected a few boxes. It's really snowballed in a good way," said Sgt. Carl Quam Jr. of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion. About 475 soldiers in the battalion arrived in Iraq in February and are expected to return in early 2005.

      The project began when TEVSO President Natalie Estenson received a request from her brother-in-law, a soldier in Iraq. Sgt. Carl Quam Jr. of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion thought it would be good to provide teddy bears to Iraqi children. Estenson explained the situation to other students and they quickly agreed to take on the challenge.

      As soon as "Operation Teddy Bear" was publicized, Hamann's phone began ringing. It wasn't long before one of the basement rooms in the UTTC Education Building was swarming with bears. TEVSO students and advisors helped to collect, sort and pack. Members of the National Guard supplied boxes, packed the bears, and delivered the packages to the post office.

Students involved in program
These students donated excess funds to help cover the costs of DVDs, mailing boxes and postage from Iraq to the United States for members of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion. The soldiers are sending holiday greetings to their families in North Dakota.

      Once all the bears were safely on their way, there was money left over. The group decided to present the 141st National Guard Family Support Group with a check to help cover the cost of making CD's of Christmas greetings from guard members for their families.

      "It's been overwhelming to see the community's response, and to know that we're helping children in Iraq who are probably seeing violence everyday," said Estenson. "We began this project for the children in Iraq and we're ending it by assisting the soldiers. We've touched lives in both parts of the world."

      The TEVSO sends its thanks to everyone at UTTC and the community who participated in this project.


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