Steve Wackowski, a staffer on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, delivers toys to children in Afghanistan on a recent trip.
As Steve Wackowski shipped out on a nine-day tour of Afghanistan and Iraq, he brought just what he could carry: an extra uniform, a couple of T-shirts and toiletries. He also lugged a box filled with 30 deflated soccer balls, six or seven coats, 20 stuffed animals and assorted toys — all items that were donated by his colleagues on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and destined for orphaned children in a hospital in Afghanistan.
He carried the heavy box through the Afghanistan desert for five days; the cumbersome load only reminded him that he was tired, hungry and far away from Washington, D.C. But when he walked into an Egyptian-run field hospital in Afghanistan with the box of goodies, he was greeted by children jumping up and down with wide smiles on their faces.
All his efforts, he said, had been worthwhile.
“Just that little bit of mercy and compassion that you can show these kids makes all the difference,” Wackowski said.
For most of the year, Wackowski is a professional staff member for the current majority on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. For at least 24 days out of the year, though, he’s a lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. He recently was called to duty and spent Nov. 12-21 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before he left he sent an e-mail to the committee staff, asking if anyone would like to donate clothing or toys, and he spent a half-day distributing the gifts to children in a hospital in Afghanistan.
Wackowski’s effort was on behalf of what’s commonly known as Operation Care, a group of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who volunteer in their free time to distribute such items in hospitals, refugee camps and orphanages. He placed a box in a corner of the office in the Russell Senate Office Building and was thrilled that the staff came together to aid the Afghan children. Wackowski’s colleagues on the committee were pleased to contribute to his “mission of mercy,” as he called it.
Wackowski said he was unprepared for the amount of suffering he witnessed in the hospitals, but he was just as surprised by the children’s joy in response to the soldiers’ visit. He said he was moved by the expression on the children’s faces and the way in which their eyes lit up with excitement.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.