September 6, 2005
Dropping teddy bears by parachute in Iraq is a Cold War relic that still works. Peacekeeping often succeeds when you keep the kids happy. American troops learned that during their 1990s Balkans peacekeeping. Someone there remembered the candy bomber from the 1948/49 Berlin airlift. In 1948, the Russians blocked land access to the Allied sectors of Berlin. Rather than start World War III to open the roads, the Allies used aircraft to keep the civilian population supplied with food and fuel until the Russians relented. One of the pilots put little parachutes on candy bars, and dropped on kids beneath, who waved to him as he landed his transport. American helicopter pilots in Bosnia made little parachutes for teddy bears, and dropped them to kids in rural villages, especially in areas where the parents were armed, and hostile, to the peacekeeping effort. The American troops also collected money to buy school supplies for the kids, which was delivered by truck. No one took an opinion survey, but all the troops involved believe that they got shot at less in areas where the para-bears landed.
In Iraq, a UH-60 pilot (Chief Warrant Officer Randy Kirgiss), and his crew chief (Specialist Ben Knoepke) decided to bring the para-bears (or teddy-troopers) to the their neighborhood. Since last April, about a thousand bears have been dropped (in rural areas, doing it in a city risks having kids running into traffic to grab a bear). The largest drop was on May 21st, when 200 were dropped. The bears, and the material for the parachutes (or sometimes assembled parachutes) are all donated. If you want to help out, email email@example.com for more info. Again, as in Bosnia, there is no hard evidence that the para-bear effort has had a major effect on the war. But the helicopter pilots can see smiles on the faces of kids catching the bears, and troops moving report seeing happy kids, clutching teddy bears, and maybe a little less violence from the local armed adults.