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Marines reach out to local community

13 Oct 2004 | Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.

Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, traveled to this small town near Fallujah Oct. 12 to visit locals and discuss ongoing and future community projects in the area.

Since replacing 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, in September, 3rd Battalion has taken over many projects including the renovation of Sitcher's mosque and main road, the building of a new school house and the upgrading the city's water purification and distribution system. These projects are aimed at rebuilding the town's infrastructure and improving Iraqi and U.S. relations.

"We are making great progress with this small town, it helps to show that we want to be here to aid them and build them back up," said Sgt. Stephan O. Cole, 33, a native of Tulare, Calif., and the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Information Office for 3/5, RCT-1.

Approximately $120,000 was put into the school, $50,000 for the mosque, $210,000 for the road and more than $179,000 for the water project.

The Marines have invested a lot into the local communities, so it is encouraging to come out and see progress in the small towns here, said Capt. Henry A. Henegar, 30, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a civil affairs team leader with 4th Civil Affairs Group, 3/5, RCT-1.

The battalion feels that Sitcher's infrastructure isn't the only thing in the community that has improved.

"The Iraqi people have a positive perception of the American presence in their village," said Henegar. "The Iraqi kids used to be scared when the troops would come by, but now they run inside the houses and tell their parents 'our friends are here.'"

The Marines from 3/5 saw first hand the benefits of their efforts as they passed out school supplies to Sitcher's youth, Oct. 12.

Approximately 30 backpacks, 10 soccer balls, several hundred copies of Freedom magazine and school supplies, including rulers, pens, pencils, colored pencils, stuffed animals and stickers were handed out to the Iraqi children.

"It is a lot of fun to give the children these gifts," said Cole.  "It makes you feel good to bring joy to the little kids."

The Marines use the gifts to promote education to a community whose learning opportunities are often limited. 

"The Iraqi children spend most of their time with their mothers," said Staff Sgt. John F. Cuoco, 42, a native of Westfield, N.J., and a civil affairs team chief with 4th CAG.  "Since most Iraqi women are under educated, other venues should be opened to expose the children to higher learning, thus allowing Iraq to move forward to becoming a democratic nation."

Currently the Marines of 3/5 are working with the local community to build the town a new primary school, which will be named the Albu d'Khayel School once it is complete and will have six large classrooms, several administrative rooms and a kitchen.

"The original school that serviced the village was a dilapidated, one-room schoolhouse on the edge of town, more than 3 kilometers from the site of the new school," said Henegar.  "Now the village has a school in a centralized location for all the children of the entire community to attend, which is over 300 Iraqi boys and girls."

Due to the new school's convenient location, a higher number of students is expected to attend classes once the project is complete. To handle the anticipated increase, girls will attend classes in the morning and boys will attend in the afternoon.

The Iraqi government and the Ministry of Education have teamed up to employ more teachers to educate the young minds of this small community of about 5,000 people.

There will be at least six teachers for the girls and six for the boys, plus several administrators.

In addition to finishing existing projects, the battalion plans to begin several future projects in the area during their expected seven-month deployment. Those plans include providing additional medical supplies to local clinics and beginning large-scale employment programs.