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Iraqi schools in for improvements

21 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Schools here are back in business, teaching students about geography, politics and world affairs - all subjects strictly regulated by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Many still are in need of improvements, however, lacking in items such as books and sports equipment, even thought they are operational.  Soldiers, working with the Marines that will soon relieve them, took on the challenge of improving education for Iraqi children.

Soldiers from Company B, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, handed out $750 to officials at each of the five schools in Mahmadiyah.  Working close with them were Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment of Regimental Combat Team-1.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit is set to take over responsibility of the Iraqi town in late March from the soldiers.  The two units are working closely together to seamlessly hand off the civil affairs and security projects in the area when the soldiers depart.

"The plan is to give $750 dollars to every school in Iraq, said Capt. J.C. White, company commander, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Regiment, from Kissimmee, Fla.  "When we received the money from the Commander's Emergency Relief Program, we were eager to see the schools up their standards."

In addition to improving schools, the CERP funds, a theatre-wide funding source, are also working to improve the city.

The money is also used to fix roads, electricity, water supplies and other utilities, said 1st Lt. Peter L. Haglin, a fire support officer with Company B who has been working on the civil affairs projects in the city.  The Kansas City, Mo., soldier added the CERP funds will be turned over to Marines so they can continue to improve the quality of life for the citizens of the town.

Following closely behind the soldiers were Marines from Company E, getting a first-hand account of the relationship soldiers have built with local Iraqi officials.

"These towns don't have the facilities to help the schools, so it's great that we're helping the kids here," said Gunnery Sgt. Tracy A. Naylor, company gunnery sergeant, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.  The Puntagorda, Fla., Marine continued, "We'll monitor where the money goes and make sure that the schools get the improvements they need."

Soldiers and Marines met with the headmasters of each of the five schools and delivered the money, collecting receipts and written plans for how the money will be spent.  Ideas included improvements ranging from fixing cracks in walls to air-conditioning to sports equipment for the students.

"A lot of the books the students are using are outdated and lean toward favoring Saddam's regime," White said.

A local policeman later commented that Saddam taught the children to think of him as their father.  Saddam's officials would often visit the schools and ask the students if their parents had said anything against the regime.  If they did, they were often killed.

"I was afraid to speak around my children, because the schools taught them to look at Saddam as their father, not me," said the policeman, who lives here in Mahmadiyah.

White added he hoped the new schoolbooks and maps are something that gives the children of Iraq a positive outlook on their lives and democracy.