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Monday 12 November 2012

Veteran’s Day: Former Marine working in Iraq to aid Syrian refugee crisis with ShelterBox
Veteran’s Day: Former Marine working in Iraq to aid Syrian refugee crisis with ShelterBox

Eric Schalla, ShelterBox Response Team volunteer helping Syrian refugee families in northern Iraq, November 2012.

Marine vet honored to serve his country, returns to Iraq to aid Syrian refugee families 

Marine veteran, Eric Schalla, has been working in Iraq with international disaster relief organization, ShelterBox, to deliver aid to Syrian refugees who have fled the growing violence, political conflict and economic hardship in their country.

Schalla is a member of the ShelterBox Response Team (SRT), a highly trained group of volunteers that responds to disasters such as earthquake, volcano, flood, hurricane, cyclone, tsunami or conflict by delivering boxes of aid and other emergency supplies that help families rebuild their lives.

Inspired by the challenge and rigor of the Marines, Schalla enlisted in the corps after completing high school.

“Looking back, it was the most important decision I made as a teenager and undoubtedly one of the best,” said Schalla. “My commitment has helped fund my education, given me invaluable life lessons, and a few lifelong friends.”

Those experiences followed by the massive devastation of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, which he witnessed from afar, were what inspired him to take action.

“It was hard to see that level of suffering and feel helpless,” said Schalla, who currently lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. “With my military experience in logistics, I felt that one small way I could contribute would be to become a ShelterBox Response Team volunteer.” 

Shortly after completing his training as an SRT member, Schalla was called for his first deployment—to aid ShelterBox’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis in northern Iraq.

“My experience while deployed in Iraq over eight years ago, gave me a better understanding of what to expect as an SRT responding to the crisis,” said Schalla.  

Over this Veteran’s Day weekend, Schalla continues to help the Syrian families living in the Domiz refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Approximately 15,000 people are living at the camp, with an average of 200 new refugees arriving each day.

Due to growing concerns over the threat of imminent winter weather, Schalla, with his team, have distributed emergency tented shelter and supplies that will help sustain harsh winter conditions, such as ShelterBox’s thermal tent liners and sets of hats, gloves and scarves.

Following the first Gulf War in 1991, NATO established a no-fly zone to permit Kurdish refugees to return to their homeland. In 2005, the newly representative government ratified a new constitution, creating greater autonomy within the region. Today, Kurdistan is one of the safest areas in the Middle East.

Having that knowledge and experience helped Schalla better understand and communicate with the local people in the area.

While he is unable to celebrate at home, Schalla is thinking of his fellow service men and women, and his country from across the globe. 

“I am very grateful to be a citizen of a country that holds its military veterans in such high regard and gives thanks to their service,” he said. “I am humbled by the service of my fellow veterans, and honored to have had the opportunity to serve this great country.” 

Since 2000, ShelterBox has provided shelter, warmth and dignity following more than 180 disasters in over 80 countries. ShelterBox is currently responding to Hurricane Sandy in the US and Caribbean, extensive flooding and ongoing conflict in the Sahel region of West Africa, and flooding in Nigeria and Senegal.

“ShelterBox is able to deploy volunteers and much needed supplies to these areas, thanks to the generosity of its donors,” added Schalla. “Please consider becoming part of this great effort by donating today. Thank you, and Happy Veteran's Day.”

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