Ojeda visited The Logan Banner office to present a certificate of appreciation from the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team to Logan Banner Publisher James C. Jenkins and to this reporter for a story published concerning his shoe drive for the children.
"I contribute 95 percent of our donations to the story published in The Logan Banner," Ojeda said.
"We are just enormously happy and proud to be able to support this humane effort," Jenkins said. "The Banner continues to stand by and be of any help with the noble effort you guys are doing over there."
Ojeda said contributions were not only of footwear, but toys, scarves, gloves, school supplies and candy. He also was amazed at the variety of groups contributing — businesses, churches and civic groups.
"Logan Middle School donated something like a thousand pairs of shoes. First Christian Church of Logan, Calvary Baptist Church, Verdunville Church of God... Daisy Troops and Brownie Troops... there were so many I'm afraid I will leave some one out if I list them all. The show of support has absolutely been amazing," Ojeda said.
At one point, there were so many packages being delivered to Ojeda that the mail was jammed up and soldiers couldn't get their deliveries.
"I explained to my guys that it didn't matter," Ojeda said. "We're still in Afghanistan, but we're still getting food, we have a place to sleep at night and we don't need anything else."
Ojeda said troops have a NWA office where soldiers can receive emails and check on family members.
"I told them we have enough comforts to survive," Ojeda said. "If it takes a month to get a box of snacks from home so these kids to get shoes and clothes, so be it."
Ojeda thinks goodwill shown by the troops in giving children shoes, clothing and toys offered a blanket of protection to his men.
"People began to really see that we were not there to harm them, we were there to help them," said Ojeda. "We saved lives. We saw children running around in six inches of snow with flip flops on or now shoes at all ... it is really cold over there. I don't doubt that we went about three months were the temps didn't get above zero. Some days we just couldn't go on when we would see a child with flip flops on or no shoes at all. We would just have to stop, we just couldn't drive by without putting shoes on these kids."
Ojeda said temps have warmed up in Afghanistan but they will still be doing the shoe giveaway.
"Flip flops work great," Ojeda said.
Ojeda said the school supplies were greatly appreciated by the children.
"The kids over there will walk on some of the most treacherous trails to go to school. One place we go to, the children have to cross a mountain and climb down a small narrow path that's maybe a foot wide," Ojeda said. "If they fall off that path they are dead. I'm talking about a 1,000 foot drop. The children do this every day."
Ojeda said the children are constantly begging for pens and pencils from the soldiers.
"When children see us the start saying 'Pen, Pen, Pen,'" Ojeda said. "The kids will find scrap pieces of cardboard and paper to take to school to write on. With pen and paper, they can take their notes home and study them. Every child over there looks to education as a way out. All the children are trying to speak English, they may only know one or two words, but they keep saying them to me. An education to them is a gift."
Ojeda said the children would prefer pencils, pen and paper instead of a toy.
"Of course, 99 percent of them have never had a toy," Ojeda said. "Sometimes we would a Hot Wheel car or something to give a child. They would just look at you like 'what is this? I don't need this, I can't eat it or wear it' and then all of sudden their eyes will light up when they realize it is something to play with. Soccer balls are huge."
Ojeda said there is one stipulation to contributions, they can't have any religious writing or graphics on them.
"When people send us things like soccer balls, we have to make sure there are no religious emblems or writing on them," Ojeda said.
Ojeda said the recent Kuran burning by a religious leader in Florida has brought danger to the troops in Afghanistan.
"They actually picketed outside our camp," Ojeda said. "In some of the places, the Afghanistans have gotten violent, resulting in the loss of life. There, the religion is of the Muslim faith and we have to respect that so we don't trample on that at all. Even though we would like to spread what we believe, we can't do it over there."