My name is Gunnar Swanson. I’m a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I went to Iraq in the early stages of the war, back in early 2003, and returned home in 2004. I was a Sergeant, and served as a boat operator in the 957th Engineer Company out of Bismarck, ND. I conducted many riverboat patrols along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, as well as many convoy operations throughout Iraq.
One of the experiences that really affected me in Iraq had to do with the kids I met there. During the first few months of my tour in Iraq, we would purposefully pull our convoys over to talk to the kids who waited for us on the side of roads. They were a real morale-booster for the soldiers, and we usually stopped to hang out with them, give them some of our MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat), and trade with them.
Unfortunately, insurgents in Iraq started to use and manipulate kids into planting roadside bombs, using them as child soldiers, and even using them as suicide bombers. Since we no longer knew who was safe to be around, we were forced to stop our interactions with the kids during military missions. I think both the soldiers and the kids really experienced a sense of loss when that happened.
I came home from Iraq, finished my B.A. in psychology in 2005, and began a successful personal fitness training business. A few years later, I changed career paths drastically, and became a dolphin trainer in Key Largo, Florida. Though I have been successful in adapting to my civilian life, I have had this constant, urgent need within me to do more for the kids I saw suffering from this war. I came across War Kids Relief when searching the internet for a way to help these kids, and as soon as I learned more about its goals I knew that being a part of this organization was my life’s mission.
War Kids Relief creates facilities, programs, and expertise enabling children traumatically affected by war to realize new possibilities for their lives. To fund these projects, I’ve created an interactive fundraising event called “A Soldier’s March for Peace.”
Won’t you help me help these kids, and help me support our troops by keeping these vulnerable kids from being used as tools of war? Visit the other pages of this website to learn how you can help spread the word and support A Soldier’s March for Peace.
I truly thank you.