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Army Reservist Does It For The Children
By Kendra Helmer
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 2, 2004

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 family.

"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 Operations Company.

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 and schools.

Gilkes, who's known McCorkle for five years, said the reservist doesn't do anything halfway.

"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 said.

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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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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