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This month brings one of my favorite holidays: the Fourth of July. It’s a celebration of American independence and freedom. Freedom is a precious gift, one I believe comes with the responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. With that in mind, I would like to use this month’s column to shine a light on a program called Operation Iraqi Children (OIC), which is devoted to giving some deserving kids a chance at a better life.

OIC is a grassroots effort that was founded in 2004 by actor Gary Sinise and author Laura Hillenbrand. Its purpose is to give concerned Americans a means to reach out to Iraqi children and support the ongoing efforts of U.S. troops to provide the children of Iraq with the kinds of basic school supplies that American children often take for granted. For several years, American soldiers -- having noticed that most Iraqi schools lack books, pencils, blackboards, and other essentials -- have taken it upon themselves to gather learning tools sent by family and friends back home for the schools in need. OIC was created to support those efforts, and since its inception, it has delivered 200,000 school-supply kits and thousands of Arabic-language books, shoes, backpacks, blankets, and packs of sports equipment, all of which have then been distributed by our troops directly to Iraqi children. OIC’s focus has long been on Iraq, but the organization recently expanded its program to also include children in other nations, such as Afghanistan and East Africa’s Djibouti.

Two months ago, American Airlines teamed with OIC to make the largest onetime shipment of supplies in the program’s history. AA volunteers organized and staffed an eight-day journey that took more than 20 tons of school supplies, new shoes, and other items to the children of Iraq.

We were fortunate to have the chance to participate in such a worthy endeavor, and, of course, it helps when you have a fleet of aircraft and an army of volunteers at your disposal. But anyone, and everyone, can help. And I hope you will, because we have it in our power to give a generation of kids -- who until now have been forgotten -- the tools they will need to learn, grow, and build a better life.

Getting involved is easy. You can either donate money -- 100 percent of which will go to buy supplies for kids and offset shipping costs -- or organize a school-supply drive through your neighborhood school or church, or through any other organization. All over America, organizations are assembling items into kits and sending them to the OIC warehouse in Kansas City, Missouri. From there, the supplies are shipped to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Djibouti. Once they arrive, the shipments are picked up and distributed to children by American troops.

OIC does an enormous amount of good for children who have been badly neglected. But the benefits of this program transcend the tangible good OIC brings to thousands of schools, because by reaching out to help kids a world away -- kids we will likely never meet -- we not only affirm America’s basic goodness and generosity, we also help to foster goodwill and understanding between nations. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our freedom than that.

I hope you will visit www.operationiraqichildren.org and learn more about how to get involved. In the meantime, wherever you’re going today, thanks for flying with us.

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of Gerard Arpey

Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines