SINJAR, Iraq — Spc. David McCorkle noticed the
Iraqi boy wearing the same purple shirt every day on the streets of Mosul.
Concerned about why 10-year-old Yahya was selling soda and candy instead of
sitting in a classroom, McCorkle started asking questions. He learned that
since Yahya's father had died, he had to drop out of school to support his
"It just broke my heart to think that children should have to do that," said
McCorkle, 46, an Army reservist with the 318th Tactical Psychological
McCorkle went to speak to Yahya's mother. She cried after he said he would
support their family if Yahya returned to school.
Changing the lives of one family wasn't enough for the IBM technical
salesman. He couldn't help but notice other street kids, whose photographs he
kept sending home to his wife, Maureen.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, he's up to something,' " Maureen said in a telephone
interview from their home in Lone Jack, Mo.
She was right.
While attached to the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq, McCorkle
embarked on a monumental task. With the help of soldiers and friends, he
established a nonprofit corporation to help children in the northern Iraqi
province of Ninevah.
"My main goal is to help kids that are working on the streets instead of
attending school," he said.
Within a few months, he read up on charities, wrote grant applications, spent
$5,000 on legal fees and a Web site and assembled a board of directors for the
charity, American Aid for Children of Ninevah, Iraq.
"Once he says he's going to do something, he does it," said wife Maureen, the
president of AA-CNI, which was incorporated Oct. 31. Also on the board are
soldiers from his unit, Sgt. James Harrelson and Sgt. James Sikes.
He enlisted the help of IBM colleague Bruce Gilkes to create the
www.iraqkids.org Web site, which features photos and stories of children
Gilkes, who's known McCorkle for five years, said the reservist doesn't do
"This is exactly the kind of person he is … gung-ho, goes for it pretty heavy
duty," Gilkes said in a phone interview from Tampa, Fla. "That's why I was
definitely willing to help."
Maureen, married to David for 22 years, also wasn't surprised by his
determination to make a difference. It was that resolve that led him to Iraq in
the first place.
The traveling salesman, who had a six-figure income, had been going through a
midlife crisis before the terrorist attacks. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was sitting
in the Dallas airport.
"I was sitting there in lounge, I felt helpless, thought what can I do," he
McCorkle, who earlier had served three years in the Army and a year in the
National Guard, decided to join the reserves. But he weighed 350 pounds.
He joined a health club, went on a diet and lost 125 pounds from September
until June 2002, when he enlisted at age 44.
"Every two weeks he'd go into the recruiting office and get measured and
weighed. It was absolutely something he had to do," Maureen said.
McCorkle deployed Feb. 12, 2003, for what he thought would be a three- to
six-month deployment. His unit was extended to more than a year.
His job is to ensure the unit's radios work properly. But he's in his element
away from the military camps, when he interacts with the locals.
Children know him, clamoring for his attention when he makes the rounds to
hand out local-language newspapers published by the coalition.
McCorkle, who is now in Kuwait and should be home sometime this month, is
working with military officials, local bankers and humanitarian organizations
to make sure the AA-CNI money reaches the children and schools.
The biggest challenge, he said, was finding a mechanism for getting donations
to the war-torn country. While the organization is still working out details,
people can sign up on the Web site to donate. Donors, who can correspond with
the children, have payment and sponsoring options, from helping a certain child
to supporting a specific school.
Among the dozen children on the site is Salah, 12, who has honey-colored eyes
and blond hair. After his father died, Salah, his mother and four brothers
moved to another village to work on a farm. Salah attended school at the time
and was one of the best pupils in his class. After the war, the family couldn't
find any farm jobs, so Salah quit school to work elsewhere.
Yahya, the boy in the purple shirt, has returned to school. The McCorkles
contacted representatives of first lady Laura Bush about sending Yahya to the
United States for a visit in June, when McCorkle plans to get out of the
Reserve. However, they're having trouble securing travel documents for the boy
and his translator.
"I want to raise awareness and understanding of what issues the children face
here, and take him to Disney World," McCorkle said.
Maureen recalled a conversation they had when he signed up for the Reserve,
knowing there was a good chance he would go to Iraq.
"I said to him, 'But what about the children (their two sons)?' He said, 'I'm
doing it for the children — I'm doing it for everyone's children.'
"I guess he really meant it."
— For more information on AA-CNI, go to www.iraqkids.org
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