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Monday, April 09, 2007

Iraqi, U.S. Soldiers bring smiles to schools

Wednesday, 04 April 2007
By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
.

AZ ZAIDON — The children, wide-eyed at the sight of Iraqi soldiers in their schools, seemed a little frightened at first, but within moments, as the soldiers began handing out cookies and asking questions about the day’s lessons, they warmed up.

Iraqi soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, visited two schools with troops of the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) and the military transition team from 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, March 29. The visits, which provided much-needed school equipment like chalkboards and generators, also served to let the children and teachers see that the Iraqi troops serve the country and are available.

“Please give me your phone number,” Ta’if School Headmaster Nafir Abdullah asked the Iraqi troops. “And don’t be a stranger. This school is always open to you, and we would love to have you help educate the children.”

Sgt. Richard Fulham, a native of Toms River, N.J., and a squad leader with Troop A, 1-89, distributed cookies to several classes of youngsters.

“My mother-in-law made them for me, but I just had to give them to the kids,” he said. “I get too many cookies anyway.”

The children shouted and waved, competing for the troops’ attention and photographs before the teachers called them back to class.

“Most of the teachers here work without receiving a salary,” Abdullah explained. The school, while well-kept, is very poor. “There are plenty of terrorist attacks at night, but during the day it’s very safe. But we have no problems with the Iraqi or U.S. soldiers coming; please feel free to come anytime.”

At the Al-Haafaththa school just up the road, the combined patrol again distributed basic supplies and goodies to the children and teachers.

“We’re doing a humanitarian assistance operation here,” said Capt. Joshua Schneider, a native of Phoenix and the staff maneuver adviser to the Iraqi Army for military transition team 0632. “We’ve brought generators, blackboards, book bags filled with school supplies like pens and pencils and notebook paper, and activity books for school.”

About 60 Iraqi soldiers were part of the operation.

“The reception has been very good,” Schneider added. “The teachers and Iraqi soldiers are building stronger relationships, and that’s only going to help this area.”

“It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, helping the children,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Grilo, a native of Millington, N.J., and the executive officer for Troop A. “If we give them the ability to learn and get an education, they’re less vulnerable to other influences -- like extremist views.”

Platoon leader 1st Lt. Adam Robison, a native of Columbus, Ohio, was also upbeat about the mission.

“Seeing the kids respond to us handing out toys and book bags is always great -- they are so happy. It's like we’re Santa Claus to them,” Robison said. “I think doing missions like this with the Iraqi soldiers allows people to see that they (the soldiers) care and that they’re starting to take responsibility for their country so they can start taking over.”

Photo: Iraqi soldiers Misher Jemel, Hatam Karim Namer, Farhan Abdul Itai and Mahdi Sanoun pose with children at the Al-Haafaththa school near Zaidon, Iraq, March 28 during a humanitarian operation delivering school supplies with U.S. soldiers. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Chris McCann..

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