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1st MarDiv Marines remove signs of Hussein's regime

3 May 2003 | Sgt. David Salazar 1st Marine Division

Villagers watched as the military convoy of more than 20 vehicles stormed through their sleepy town, kicking up billowy plumes of Iraqi dust.

Then suddenly, near the center of the Al Qadisiyah governate's center, the parade of seven-ton trucks and humvees came to a halt.

The cloud of dust had only begun to settle when the vehicles' drivers and assistant drivers dismounted their trucks and hurriedly formed a semi-circle around a Marine awaiting them at the checkpoint.

He quickly instructed the large group of vehicle operators to break into smaller teams. 

"You three drivers -- grid Mike Alpha 9229 4069 -- go," he commanded.
"You three -- grid Mike Alpha 9454 3965 -- go."

And as the Marines and Sailors received their instructions, they quickly remounted their vehicles.  They were on their way to engage targets in the sector of Iraq occupied by the Marines of 3rd Bn., 5th Marine Regiment.

But the 1st Marine Division warriors were on a different type of mission and they would battle the enemy with different types of weapons.

The orders were simple, remove the ideas of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party from the minds and thoughts of Iraqi children.

To accomplish this, the troupe of teufelhunden set out to the source of the children's learning -- the Bayariq Al Nasir Boys and Girls School in Ad Diwaniyah.

There they attacked the small school with paintbrushes and rollers, effacing Arabic writing that appeared on every wall within the little building.

Many of the dutiful painters did not fully understand the deep significance of their deeds, however.

"I think this is a good way to help the community get back on its feet," said Cpl. Nick Lewis, a motor transport vehicle operator with HQ Co., 5th Marine Regiment.

"I think this shows the kids that we're more than just fighters," Lewis said as he applied another coat of whitewash to an old brick wall, oblivious to the ominous messages he covered.

"REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR HANDS," read one wall in Arabic writing. 
"REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR FACE," right below it.

Unbeknownst to the eager painters, removing the Ba'athist messages played an immense role in rebuilding the formerly oppressed nation.

"This is a complete change from the mindset these people were in," said Capt. Damon Stevens, the legal counsel currently assigned to 3/5 for their rebuilding efforts.  "For years they've been told what to do, how to think and how to act and we're here to empower them to think and act for themselves.

"Painting over these pictures and messages is a very important symbol of the change that has occurred here."

Since the party's rise to power in 1968, those messages filled the young eyes and minds of the thousands of children that have since attended the little grammar school. 

"I remember those messages from when I came here as a boy," said an Iraqi man who chose to remain anonymous.  "Some students did not fully understand the statements, but as we grew older we came to realize that we were being manipulated by the Saddam loyalists."

But it seems the days of Ba'ath mind control are over.

"I praise the Marines and America for what they are doing here today," said Ali Mohammad Udda, Bayariq Al Nasir's schoolmaster, through an interpreter.  "The school was filled with Ba'ath Party propaganda and the curriculum was very much based off Ba'athist teachings.

"With Saddam in their books and on their walls, there was very little else that (the children) could learn."

With the previous regime now toppled and the fresh white paint concealing the menacing messages, the children of Ad Diwaniyah could plan to receive traditional instruction in grammar and math. 

Udda said he and his staff of 55 teachers and assistants have been hard at work putting together a better curriculum for Bayariq's future students -- and every stroke of the Marines' paintbrushes brought more hope that the regime would never again influence the minds and futures of Ad Diwaniyah's children.

"Looks good," said one Marine, gazing at the newly-whitened rafters of the schoolhouse.

After consolidating the tools of their temporary trade, the Marines and Sailors slipped on their helmets and protective vests and slung their rifles across their backs, the job here was done.

As they quickly filed back onto their respective vehicles, they waved at the gathering children who would soon find themselves behind the desks at Bayariq Al Nasir once again.

"Goodbye mister," the children yelled as the convoy stormed back through their sleepy town, kicking up billowy plumes of Iraqi dust.

1st Marine Division