AL QA'IM, Iraq --
Broken glass, debris and piled-up desks gave the grounds a look of abandonment. The children of Al Tuzliyah, Iraq, call this place maddrasa, or school.
Iraqi Army soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, partnered with the Marines and sailors of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, arrived at the school grounds with an abundance of tools and supplies. The joint effort had one goal: to provide the children with a school they could be proud of.
The school needs a lot of work, but the children deserve it, said an Iraqi Army soldier who wished to be not named.
The school clean-up kicked off with Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines working side by side, clearing broken windows and removing the dirt and debris from each classroom. New windows were unloaded and cut to size. Countless sandbags were filled with dirt scattered about the school. Blackboards were placed at the head of every classroom.
Although the children had the day off, the community saw their Iraqi Army show up in droves to help renovate their local school.
“The object is to allow the (Iraqi Army) and other (Iraqi Security Forces) to have the opportunity to redirect their efforts before their people,” said Capt. T.J. Owens, the company commander of Company I. “(The Iraqis) need to see (the IA) doing the things they, to this point in (Operation Iraqi Freedom), attributed to American forces.”
Iraqi Security Forces are gaining the initiative to take on similar community projects, but they often lack the resources to do so.
“At times this means setting a project up and logistically supporting it in order to allow them the opportunity to conduct it,” said Owens. “No matter how it is done, at the end of the day, the ISF should be in the lead as we conduct operations.”
As the buzz of power tools and the sound of swept glass came to a calm, the schoolmaster strolled through the classrooms with his hands at the small of his back and a smile across his face that spoke a thousand words.
Company I presented the schoolmaster with boxes of school supplies and soccer balls when the day of renovations was complete.
Since the children were out of school for the day, Company I drove around the village to personally deliver school supplies, toys and soccer balls to the families of Al Tuzliyah.
“I do feel that (the IA) is able to do projects like this on their own,” said Owens. “We have attempted to involve the ISF in all that we do. This allows them to get a snap shot of what American service members value: our people. In seeing that, each project shows them more of how to get out and get involved with their people and gain their trust. With example and desire, the ISF will continue to do projects like this on their own.”