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Back to Iraq,
shoes in hand

Eva soldier resuming footwear crusade, mission of peace where
the bullets fly

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

They make shoes for walking.

And Maj. James Pugh's goal remains for every Iraqi woman and child in Baghdad to slip on a pair and one day walk all over a safe city.

The latter may take a little longer but the Eva soldier said that with the continued help of Tennessee Valley area residents, shoe ownership should succeed at a fast pace.

Pugh, a member of the Alabama Army National Guard's 1169th Engineer Group based in Huntsville, launched the shoe drive when he arrived in Baghdad on Oct. 15. He came home on furlough March 29.

Saturday, he returns to the Iraqi capital to resume what he considers a mission of peace. In addition to getting Iraqi feet covered to prevent cuts that lead to infections and diseases, he assists with engineering designs for facilities at forward operating bases, joint security stations and Iraqi Army facilities.

On a visit to The Daily, Pugh and his wife, Jacquie, spoke about the generosity of the community.

"I have over 600 pairs of shoes in the car, ready to go," she said.

"And 10 to 15 bags of women's and children's clothing," he added.

"We use them as door prizes, which helps get people to come in and be examined by Civil Affairs unit doctors. We also give out over-the-counter medicines."

Pugh said Civil Affairs is part of the Special Operations Forces in the U.S. Army Reserve units.

"They try to get road systems rebuilt, working in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers," he said.

Pugh, a self-proclaimed Navy brat who graduated high school at Orange Park, Fla., in 1980, said soldiers have distributed about 1,500 pairs of shoes.

"But we need more of everything," said Pugh, who earned an engineering degree at Auburn University and has been in the Guard 19 years. "Diapers are a hot item, and clothing, personal hygiene products, and baby formula and powder are always in demand."

James Pugh said Civil Military Operations Centers spread around Baghdad not only provide health education for the women and children but also give Iraqis low-interest loans.

"Some of the CMOCs are located on exterior walls of the forward operating bases and others are out in the community," he said. "A lot of the CMOCs aren't open every day. Terrorists coming into these locations are always a concern. We put up security cordons manned by whatever infantry unit owns that battle space. It could be Iraqis or Americans, but more and more they come from the Iraqi Army."

Pugh said he has been on 30 or more convoys throughout the city on different projects and has flown by helicopter to locations at least that many times.

"(Improvised explosive devices) are our biggest threat, and we don't minimize that," he said. "But you can pretty much track where that stuff is. You just have to be careful."

He said thousands of convoys go out every week in and around Baghdad and "when one or two get hit, yeah, it's a bad thing. I hate to say you're playing percentages, but you've really got a better chance of having a terrible accident in Atlanta than getting hit by an IED in Iraq."

Hughes said he expects to be in Baghdad until the end of September or early October.

"Send shoes," he said, "because they work in what we're trying to accomplish. And don't forget prayers. Prayers work, too." Sending shoes

  • Ship directly to James B. Pugh, 1169th Engineer Group, APO, AE09344.

  • Contact his wife, Jacquie, at Pugh Engineering Services at 482-2048 for information.

  • Drop sites are Curves for Women of Hartselle, a women’s health fitness club at 1505-C, U.S. 31 Southwest, Mamas Country Diner at Alabama 67 and Alabama 36, Somerville Baptist Church or Expressions in Colonial Mall.

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