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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

Schmidt poses with chldren after handing out school supplies

Catching up with: Todd Schmidt

Even in the midst of war, the human spirit can make its mark.

Just ask Major Todd Schmidt, who now works in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense. Less than four years ago, in the distant mountains of Afghanistan, the 1996 political science graduate from the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI stepped "outside the box" and launched Operation Dreamseed, a project born from the generosity of the families and friends of American soldiers.

"In our down time, the company that I commanded received lots of letters and care packages from home," Schmidt recalls. "We decided it would be nice to thank them, so we sent notes back. That generated even more letters and packages, which grew into this huge network." Schmidt and his troops were well aware of the precarious circumstances in which Afghani families — particularly school-age children — lived. So they asked families to contribute school supplies instead of food and gifts for U.S. soldiers.

"The response we got was amazing," says Schmidt, who is still in awe of the support. "People gave so much. It really helped us break the ice with people in our region."

The formula is simple: provide children with the education and tools they need, and it brings a smile to their faces. The smiles are contagious; the impact immeasurable.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld consults with Schmidt prior to the start of the Informal Meeting of NATO Defense Ministers in Portoroz, Slovenia

During its short life Dreamseed has grown dramatically; an idea to help a village or two now spans the entire country, and has expanded into Iraq and Kosovo, as well. Schmidt's philanthropic efforts earned him the Military Outstanding Voluntary Service Medal and generated worldwide support. "People from all walks of life seem to understand the power of helping others" says Schmidt, who is both the founder and president of Dreamseed.

"Our people come from across the political spectrum, too — we all just want to help!"

The support has helped Dreamseed grow beyond school supplies.

"We just finished an $80,000 school rebuilding project in partnership with another philanthropic organization," he adds. Keeping up with the demands of the organization — managed in large part by a popular Web site (www.operationdreamseed. org) — isn't easy, especially since Schmidt's "day job" as a strategic planner for the assistant secretary of the Army keeps him busy, too. uring his military career, he has worked in the Secretary of Defense's office, and helped in the transition of responsibility from former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Robert Gates. "That was interesting," he laughs.

During his career, Schmidt has briefed White House staff members, served as an information operations coordinator in Afghanistan, and earned a Bronze Star, a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals and two Army Achievement Medals.

The IUPUI graduate loves his career and all that comes with it. But Dreamseed — the lives it has touched and the generosity it has unleashed — fills a special place in his heart.

"A lot of people 'get it,' I believe," says Schmidt. "The long-term solutions to the conflicts we now face in Iraq and Afghanistan are better solved through empowerment, education and humanitarian assistance that provide for basic human security. When people feel secure, they feel at peace."