Reaching out to the other side of the world
Separated by war, family connects by helping Afghanistan orphans

Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Army Capt. Joel Newsom hands out donated goods to Afghan children at the Charikar Orphanage in Afghanistan. The smiles on the faces of the Afghan children as they received these gifts warmed the hearts of soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division (Light) with the spirit of giving.
Photo Courtesy of Amy Newsom

Dec. 19, 2004 -- Though separated by thousands of miles, local resident Amy Newsom, wife of Army Capt. Joel Newsom serving in Afghanistan with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company 25th Infantry Division (Light), has found a way to feel close to her husband this holiday season by partnering with him on a project called "Operation Warm Child."

According to Amy, her husband and his unit of 350 first became involved in a toy drive for the orphaned children of Afghanistan. But while passing out toys, they realized what the children were really in need of were basic necessities such as shoes and coats to help sustain them through the cold winter months when temperatures go as low as minus 20 degrees.

"He wrote home back in October explaining the plight of the children, and that just kind of set us in motion to begin gathering shoes and coats for them," explained Amy.

In November, Amy said, she was invited by the Como-Pickton Elementary School administration to do a Veteran's Day program honoring American soldiers. Her presentation focused on the soldiers' humanitarian efforts and goodwill towards the people of Afghanistan, such as relief efforts, the rebuilding of schools and hospitals, and getting supplies to them for basic medical care. She took this opportunity to challenge the elementary students and staff of Como-Pickton Elementary School to join in the efforts of "Operation Warm Child."

"I asked the kids to donate shoes and coats that they had outgrown," recalled Amy. "The response I got was overwhelming. They brought sleeping bags, leather coats, old shoes, brand new shoes - everybody pitched in and were so gracious in their giving."

Students from kindergarten through sixth grade accumulated 23 large boxes that have been sent overseas from Nov. 11 to Dec. 1, "and they're still coming in," according to Amy. Postage was also donated by James and Vickie Hathcoat and Bill Watts, all of Sulphur Springs.

"This has been an effort of goodwill that has involved the giving spirit of so many people. And that's what Christmas is all about," she said. "I personally am very honored to be a part of such a project. And it has been wonderful to see how such a small school could make such a big impact on the world."

Capt. Newsom, the son of Robbie and Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom, has a unique job that allows him to support and organize things such as "Operation Warm Child" for the people of Afghanistan, according to Amy.

"It's been a blessing for him to be able to reach out like this," she said. "He sent home pictures of him and his men handing out the goods that the young students contributed. Seeing the pictures of the soldiers giving items they had gathered really gave the children a sense of awareness that we in America are so blessed. They were very interested to see the pictures of the children, families, and schools. I believe it's opened a window of understanding, that there is a whole other part of the world out there that is not as fortunate as we are.

"I feel like it opened up an awareness of how blessed we are just to be born in America, and to see our country, so blessed, trying to help another country experience some of those same blessings."

According to Amy, the American soldiers are giving hope for a better future for the war-torn country, and the joy and smiles on the faces of the orphaned children tell of their hope and how glad and appreciative they are of the American soldiers.

"Operation Warm Child" has improved the morale of the troops as well, according to Amy, by allowing them to take the donated items that are so desperately needed to the people they work so closely with every day. It has given them a sense of joy beyond measure at a time when they must be away from their own families and loved ones, she said.

Capt. Newsom and Amy have three young children of their own, Madilyn, age 6, Jackson, 4, and Hannah, 2. Not only will the Newsoms be apart on Christmas, but also on their eighth wedding anniversary, as well.

"This project has given me and our children a connection to their Daddy and where he is at and what he is doing," she explained. "We don't say that he's off fighting a war. We say he's there helping the people of Afghanistan. This project has given us a sense of the job he's doing over there and helps us feel a part of his purpose. It's given us a feeling of togetherness working on this effort with each other even though we are so many miles a part."

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