Saturday, May 10, 2008

Marines, IA give school back to children

Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens

BAGHDADI, Iraq (May 8, 2008) – A multi-unit task force recently participated in a construction project here which will soon allow local children to return to school.

Combat engineers with Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), teamed with Alpha Company, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion and the Engineer Company, 7th Iraqi Infantry Division, to construct a new site for the Iraqi Army soldiers in town to conduct their military operations.

For more than two years, 3rd Battalion, 27th Brigade, 7th Iraqi Infantry Division, has occupied the town’s school house while maintaining security and controlling traffic in the local area.

The situation has prevented the children from using the building and has forced an over-population of students in the town’s other schools.

The project will allow the school house to be used for its original intent – teaching the young generation of Iraq.

“This is a great opportunity for the Marines and IA to give something back to the town,” said 2nd Lt. Crystal Serrano, the combat engineer platoon commander with MWSS-172. “We’re directly working with the IA engineers for this project and it’s important for them to help build this location in order for the children and local community to have the school back.”

While 3rd CEB heavy-equipment operators fortified the new site, strategically placing barriers, guard houses and concertina wire at the location, MWSS-172 and IA engineers built several Southwest Asia huts for the IA battalion to use, making the site a solid military location.

Leading up to the mission, MWSS-172 Marines and IA engineers pre-fabricated most of the large pieces of the SWA huts aboard Al Asad Air Base, in order to complete the construction in a timely manner once out in the field.

Because of MWSS-172’s high operational-tempo, assets were limited in moving the equipment for the mission.

According to Serrano, the operation would not have happened if the IA engineers didn’t use their trucks to help bring the gear and pre-constructed components to the site.

Once on location, the teams worked day and night, carefully calculating all measurements and dimensions to ensure the longevity of the structures.

“The quickest way al-Anbar province can be prosperous is if we get the Iraqi Army and people in Anbar to work at it,” said Chief Warrant Officer John H. Walter, the support platoon commander for Alpha Company, 3rd CEB. “It’s comforting to know they’re willing to change and they want to change.”

The difference in their attitudes from the beginning of the conflict to now is overwhelming, added Walter.

“By helping these children get back in the classroom, it will further their education and help them learn why the Coalition is here and why we’re helping,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth W. Cumper, the engineer platoon staff noncommissioned officer in charge with MWSS-172. “Making a difference to the children now, will further our relationship with them in the future, when it’s their generation leading the country.”

The final step in the project is to de-militarize the school, which is scheduled to be completed before the start of the next school term.

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