Operation pencil push

Care packages usually include personal letters and homemade cookies, but Sarah

McCarthey of Sequim sends her husband pencils.

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan McCarthey, Sarah's husband, is serving his first tour in Iraq and saw a need for the writing utensils among local children.

"On one of Ryan's missions, he went out and assessed schools and found himself in contact with many children along the way," Sarah said.

"Ryan felt pencils would be easy to carry with him, easy to hand out, and would make an immediate difference in a child's ability to learn."

Sarah and Ryan have been in contact via e-mail since he deployed and they discussed what they could do to make a difference.

"He wanted to make sure that whatever we did went to good use and got in the right hands," Sarah said.

Ryan went to northern Iraq to assist a civil affairs team with assessments.

"They said in their area that the kids always asked for pencils. We went to some schools that had large class sizes and few supplies, and that's where the idea came from," Ryan said.

He has passed them out to gas station employees, students and teachers. While driving, Ryan tossed out about 50 pencils for students near a school. When he looked back, the students were swarming them.

"I have been passing them out every chance I get, and they have been a huge hit," Ryan said.

"I started giving about two (pencils) per kid since there were so many kids. Some of the kids would run around buildings to find me again with pencils sticking out of their pockets trying to get more."

Ryan once had an entire infantry platoon escort him through a town and help pass out pencils.

"In my job of civil affairs, we call things like that a 'quick win' because it helps the local populace's perception of the Army," Ryan said.

"The kids were excited, and the parents we saw seemed happy to see soldiers coming through doing some good for the community."

Sarah and Ryan partnered with their home church, the Little Brown Church of Blyn, to gather pencils and hygiene items to send.

Steve Devine, their pastor, announced the donations idea at a Sunday service. In the weeks following, the box was overflowing.

"Their response was purely positive and supportive and exceeded our expectations," Sarah said.

The church recently sent a second box of pencils and toothbrushes to Ryan.

"When the next box comes, I'll either send it to (the team he worked with before) or to a local orphanage," Ryan said.

Helping people in need isn't new to Ryan or Sarah.

They sponsor a little boy, Jesús, in a Peruvian orphanage where Sarah once volunteered. She also sent care packages to soldiers in Iraq through before she met Ryan.

"He has a heart of gold and is a humanitarian wherever he goes," Sarah said.

Ryan is in the 448 Civil Affairs Battalion from Fort Lewis and is the G9 non-commissioned officer in charge of the 25th Infantry Division, the staff section covering governance for Multinational Division-North. He is in his ninth year of service.

By mid-June, Ryan should be meeting his replacement and coming home.

In the years after he returns, Ryan and Sarah plan to take over the family business, Dungeness Valley Creamery, from her parents, Jeff and Debbie Brown. They hope to milk purebred Jersey cows and sell certified raw milk.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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