Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, brought toys, snacks and holiday cheer to Iraqi children at Mekasid Primary School in Rutbah, Iraq, on the morning of Dec. 23.
RUTBAH, Iraq -- This is the fourth Rutbah-area school the Marines have visited in the past three months, and each time they brought gifts and a message of unity. Most of the items they have distributed were donated and sent by private citizens back in the States.
The items which they gave to the children at Mekasid were donated by staff members from a home healthcare company and a hospice in Medina, Ohio.
Beth DeFelice, a 45-year-old social worker employed at both health care facilities, took the lead on collecting all the toys, candy, beef jerky and gum, as well as packing them into boxes and shipping the goods to the Marines in Iraq.
“People here in Medina care about the troops, and we’ve had many local folks serve in Iraq over the past few years. We all realize how blessed we are, especially working with sick and dying people on a daily basis,” said DeFelice, who has been a social worker for more than 23 years. “Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that our caring staffs responded to my request to give charitably. I was touched by just how generous people were and it brought tears to my eyes as we packed and labeled the 13 boxes to go to 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines.”
In addition to passing out items to the students, the Marines met with the school staff and spoke to the students about Coalition forces’ cooperation with Iraqi security forces and government leadership to improve the overall security situation and quality of life for the local residents.
Ahmed Attalah Mohammed, 43, has been principal of the school for the past nine years. A father of four, he was also a teacher in local schools for nine years.
During their meeting, Mohammed lauded the Coalition’s efforts to work with the Rutbah City Council to further develop the governance and essential services in the city.
“Teaching the Iraqis how to govern is more important than teaching them how to fight,” Mohammed said through an interpreter. “We see something now that we never saw in the past years: democracy.”
Mohammed thanked the Marines for their gifts, and took them on a tour of the school. The students gathered in the courtyard for a short talk by 1st Sgt. Clark Rhiel, 42, the company first sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company.
Rhiel reinforced the message that Coalition Forces are working with local police in Rutbah to ensure the safety of its citizens.
A 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps and a Secaucus City, N.J., police supervisor, with 18 years on the force, he explained his dual careers as a Reserve Marine and full-time police officer.
“(Marines) protect life, liberty and property. That’s the job of a police officer, too,” explained Rhiel.
The Marines and sailors handed out toys and snacks to the students, as well as new soccer balls. Then they took the opportunity to kick the soccer balls around with the students and pose for a photo with a Marine Corps flag, which the principal signed, thanking the Medina staff members for their generous gifts.
The Marines mailed this flag and sent electronic photos to DeFelice to share with her colleagues back home.
“The Iraqis must know by now how genuine, caring and good the Americans are just by spending time with the Marines,” said DeFelice. “They can see the troops genuinely care for them and their children with no strings attached.”