The Baghdad School Project, a philanthropic group created by the UC Irvine Social Science Dean’s Ambassadors Council recently hosted “Reconstructing Iraqi Lives: Dinner and Dialogue,” an event designed to raise money to buy school supplies for Iraqi children.
The event, held at the UCI University Club on Feb. 7, featured presentations by three speakers, all of whom had different experiences in Iraq, but who were united in their cause to raise awareness about the hardships the ordinary Iraqi citizen faces everyday. The speakers included military specialist Nick Masellis, who served in Iraq from March 2003 to April 2004, Lieutenant Phillip Peacock, who was deployed to Iraq from April 2007 to November 2007, and Omar Feikeiki, a Washington Post writer who is originally from Iraq.
Two-thirds of the dinner tickets, sold at $75 apiece, will be used to buy school-supply kits to be distributed to Iraqi children. Each kit will include basic school supplies such as pencils, erasers and notebook paper.
Prior to the dinner service, a PowerPoint presentation was given to inform audiences of the Baghdad School Project, which was founded in 2006 and aims to send educational kits to 5,000 young Iraqi students.
Following introductory speakers and BSP members Danielle Al-Chalati and Zeinab Najaf, Masellis was the first to present and opened by joking about how he gained weight since his initial tour of Iraq ended in 2004: He could no longer fit into his military uniform. However, Masellis had his uniform concealed in a garment bag, which he then showed to the audience, garnering applause from attendees.
The only official member of BSP among the night’s core presenters, Masellis referenced his own experiences in Iraq to support BSP’s cause. At one point, Masellis mentioned how the process of stabilization in Iraq came about hastily and was ill-defined, thus making it difficult to protect Iraq’s civilians.
“We were focused primarily on the enemy and not on the center of gravity of people,” Masellis said.
After thanking the audience for their support and contributions, Masellis turned the dialogue over to Peacock.
Peacock utilized a PowerPoint setup to show pictures of his tour of Iraq. Despite some photographs showing destroyed areas of the country and the difficulties that American soldiers serving abroad face everyday, Peacock’s wit prevented his display from becoming overly somber. One instance of Peacock’s humor came across when an image of Iraq’s vast deserts was projected on the display.
“Each day the dust picked up, it was about 125 degrees. It was fantastic,” Peacock joked.
Still, at the heart of the matter, Peacock faced far less comical matters during his stay in Iraq such as detecting bombs or worse yet, not detecting bombs.
“You can usually kind of judge [where a bomb is] just because you start thinking where you would put the bomb. … Other times you find them the bad way,” Peacock said.
Peacock emphasized this statement by showing a picture of a seven-ton armadillo he once travelled in. Seven-ton armadillos are armored trucks used to transport soldiers in the Middle East and, according to Peacock, are among the most well-protected vehicles used by the United States Army. The photograph showed the front end of a seven-ton armadillo, which was heavily damaged and left vulnerable when the driver accidently hit a hidden bomb; much of the exterior was blown off. According to Peacock, his unit suffered no casualties as a result of the
Perhaps more troubling is that not all of those injured and killed in Iraq are prepared to meet the dangers they face