Video: Soldier gives back to Iraqi kids

By contributor
updated 10/27/2007 7:34:49 PM ET 2007-10-27T23:34:49

In July we introduced you to Tom Deierlein, an advertising executive who made an improbable journey from a corporate office in Manhattan to the slums of Baghdad in 2006. Deierlein’s story was chronicled in the five-part series “Charity Begins at War.”

On Saturday, NBC Nightly News (on this page) shared Deierlein’s story with viewers in a segment called “Making a Difference.”

Called back to active duty in the U.S. Army after 12 years, Deierlein served as an officer in Iraq — even though he didn’t have to serve at all. His obligation to the military actually had ended years before the Army called him up and threatened him with jail time if he failed to report for duty. While in Iraq, he started a charity to help Baghdad’s neediest children. He also was shot by a sniper and left with injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life.

Deierlein’s charity, the Tom Deierlein Foundation, has received more than $120,000 from donors to date. The charity purchases items in bulk for Iraqi children — including clothes, shoes, vitamins, toys, soccer balls, school supplies and blankets — and ships them to Iraq for distribution by Army soldiers. The charity also is helping to coordinate medical care for Iraqi children whenever possible.

One seriously injured Iraqi boy featured in Part 5 of “Charity Begins at War” is continuing to receive treatment free of charge from the University of Michigan Health System. Now 4, the boy still needs to undergo one more surgery. Once he’s recovered, he and his mother will return home to Baghdad. The Tom Deierlein Foundation has covered all of their travel expenses. Deierlein’s charity also has brought a little Iraqi girl to New York for much-needed open-heart surgery, which was donated and arranged by the Gift of Life program

For his part, Deierlein, now 40, is moving forward with his life at his usual full-bore pace. Ever since the sniper shot him through his left hip, pulverizing his pelvis and sacrum, Deierlein has remained focused on his recovery. He’s returned to his job as chief operating officer of Dynamic Logic, a Manhattan company that researches the effectiveness of online advertising, and he exercises for an hour and a half every morning before work. An avid runner, he hopes to be able to run three miles by the end of this year. He ran a 10-minute mile on a treadmill a few weeks ago.

“It was actually easier than I thought it would be,” Deierlein said. “I put on my iPod and put on my favorite music and just went. …

“I’m not trying to paint an overly rosy picture, though. Pain management is still a big issue every day. I’m in pain when I wake up. I’m in pain when I fall asleep. I’m in pain. But my health is continuing to improve … and overall, I’m doing great.”

Story inspires readers
Since July, hundreds of readers have responded to the “Charity Begins at War” series, and many of those responses have been heartfelt. Here is a sampling readers’ feedback about the series:

You have paid a great tribute to one of our unsung heroes. It is a wonderful story about our brave men and women, who in spite of failed policy and Pentagon screw-ups have served us well.
— Margaret, Papillion, Neb.

Tom’s story … was riveting! I first saw the Wednesday article and then went back to pick up Monday and Tuesday. I waited with anticipation for Thursday and (Friday). Tom’s story puts the war into very understandable perspective. People can relate to the story of the solitary person who attempts to make a difference. And the story highlights the difficulty of doing that in a situation full of pointless futility. Thank you so much for bringing this story out in the open.
Paul, Arizona

I started reading the series and found myself greatly anticipating each new one. I really feel like I know Tom Deierlein. After reading (Part 4) I just couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure why. Was it the war? Was it the situation he found himself in (i.e., a garbage dump)? No, I think it was his decision to remain in the Army after the call back. He gave up so much. He lost so much. What patriotism. And today he gives so much back. I’m saddened by his physical issues, yet uplifted by his spirit. How many other Toms are out there? ...

Maj. Deierlein’s story touched a chord with me as no other story during this war. At 50, maybe they should send us to fight. I’m prior service, having learned how to shoot a pistol, M-16 and a 155 mechanized artillery piece. I make no political statement, but I do know we send our young to fight the wars that older folks start.

Thanks for the insightful piece. I still can’t help but feel for this young man. I’m also wondering if my boys will soon be fighting to protect a garbage dump. Please, dear God, please send me and not them.
Cliff, Huntsville, Ala.

I want to take a moment to thank ( for one of the most professional, unbiased, touching stories I have read in a long time. It’s that simple.             

Thank you for the break from one-sided corporate news angles. You found a true, modern-day, real-life hero in Tom. He is the backbone of our military and country.             

I wish the media would provide more inspirational stories, such as yours, rather than constantly focusing on murder, robberies, white-collar crimes, rapists, destruction/disasters and government corruption.             

Nothing is black and white — you did a great job of highlighting our need to be there ... and obviously the risks and reasons it is not in our military’s best interest.
— Ryan, Nebraska

I wanted to let you know that I stumbled upon this article on Monday and have looked forward to reading each new day. The story helps put a face to this war and illustrates to me the incredible service our men and women in uniform are doing while in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a military wife it is not hard to find millions of stories like this one, but the way this was written was just so personal (that) you felt as if you know Tom … and all of the other soldiers.

There is a deep sense of betrayal in military families that our government has tied our loved ones’ hands and they are unable to serve and perform the duty the way they were trained. This story implies that and brings home all of those emotions. Thank you so much for bringing us this story.
Leigh, Odenton, Md.

I’ve been reading for years and this is the first time I’ve written.

Thank you very much for this wonderful series. For some reason it touches my heart deeply.

I really appreciate the way it was written, presented and shared.

Excellent journalism — just excellent.
Ellen, Syracuse, N.Y.

Thank you for the great story about Tom Deierlein. As a (recently retired) Navy reserve commander, I can only imagine the trials and tribulations he went through during his re-activation to active duty. … I started to feel like I knew the guy while reading the piece.

I personally think we made a huge blunder going into Iraq, but reading this story still makes me incredibly proud of the heart and soul of the U.S. military. We can’t blame the guys on the ground for the mistakes of their leaders. They are doing the best they can in an unbelievably difficult situation.
Ben, Newport News, Va.

Thanks for choosing to share a positive story. Regardless of political persuasion, it’s a refreshing story that reminds us of our human potential.
Bob, Corona, Calif.

What a wonderful story. The work Tom did (and is doing) is what we all should be doing. As human beings we must do the right thing and help in the manner that we can and in the circumstances we are thrust in. I will be contributing to this charity and I am spreading the word.
Evi, San Antonio, Texas

I wanted to thank you for showing how good we as Americans, and humans, can be. This story of the captain (now a major) who went to war, even though he didn’t have to, his trials and tribulations, his injury, his amazing capacity for giving, his loss of his marriage, his throwing the pitch at a Yankees game, his charitable foundation, and so on …

When you first started putting posts out … I read the first three and then missed the other two because I went away. I woke up today and read the final parts I missed and I cried finding out that he was wounded (and) reading how extensive his injuries are, how he wouldn’t be there to deliver the goods he was lining up to give to the poorest of Iraq.

We as Americans sometimes don’t realize how blessed we are to have basic needs taken care of. We take for granted garbage collections, relatively clean water and social programs to help the neediest in desperate times.

I can say as a grown man, reading that this captain was injured doing … what he felt was the right thing, I was taken by surprise and couldn’t hold back the tears. It wasn’t the outcome I expected at all.

He really shows me that I can do more.
Jim, Middleburgh, N.Y.

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