COVINGTON - Brig. Gen. C. Stewart Rodeheaver was the keynote speaker at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting on Tuesday night.
Rodeheaver serves as the Deputy Commanding General of the 1st Army and is responsible for the training, readiness oversight and mobilization of National Guard and Reserve units in the continental United States and two U.S. territories. Most recently, he served as the Commander of the 48th Brigade Combat Team, Georgia Army National Guard, where he deployed his unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rodeheaver spoke on the importance of leadership through volunteerism in keeping with the night's theme of "The Value of Volunteerism."
What does the military have to do with volunteerism? More than you might think, he said.
"I work for a volunteer organization, too. The biggest difference is we get to wear camouflage clothes and shoot guns every now and then," he said.
In Iraq, Rodeheaver and his soldiers had three missions: Secure southern Baghdad, build a government that could be supported by a new constitution, and build infrastructure.
It was making use of soldiers' life skills that helped them do that, he said.
Examples: A soldier who worked for Comcast volunteered to get Internet set up at base camp so the soldiers could communicate with their families; 40 soldiers who worked as electricians headed up the effort to restore electricity to villages where it had been cut off by Saddam Hussein; several who had worked at water plants helped get running water for 80,000 people who had been drawing water out of the Euphrates River or drinking rainwater for the past eight years.
"We started turning things around not because we were such a good army but because of our life skills," Rodeheaver said.
It was a group of soldiers with experience working in retail that made an education possible for one tribe of children whose elders did not support Hussein.
Because the tribe does not wear shoes, Hussein ruled that children without shoes could not attend school.
Soldiers who worked at places like Wal-Mart, Target and other shoe suppliers were given phone cards to call their employers and request donations.
Within three weeks, 10,000 pairs of shoes had been sent.
After searching the pile of size 5 shoes that would fit him, one child told Rodeheaver he didn't like any of the shoes. Instead, he selected a pair from the size 12 pile.
Though Rodeheaver told the boy they wouldn't fit, he insisted those were the right shoes for him.
"When I asked him why, he said, 'Because this is the only pair of shoes I'll ever have,'" Rodeheaver said.
That motivated the soldiers to do even more improvements, resulting in another school and clinic being built.
Iraqis began to tip off soldiers on hiding spots of the enemy because of the care they showed for the children, he said.
"Volunteers taking care of people on a one-to-one basis made a difference," he said.
A sheik who watched as the soldiers restored electricity to a family of 18 living in a hut with one light bulb told Rodeheaver that the soldiers brought hope to his people.
Many view members of the Chamber of Commerce in the same way, because they are working to make a difference, Rodeheaver said.
"You do the same thing in your community. Bring your life skills and help the Chamber be all it can be," he said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.