FALLUJAH, Iraq -- One word describes the kids here: carefree. They run around the city streets, smiling and waving at the troops passing by, perhaps unaware of the immense responsibility resting on their small shoulders.
They are the future leaders of Iraq, soon to be in charge of managing the now-democratic nation’s affairs. What prospects await the liberated nation is in their tiny hands.
On May 2, Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Marines here did their part to ensure these kids possessed the educational tools needed to become successful leaders.
“I am happy, because I see the kids smiling, and I know that I am helping the people of the city,” stated Iraqi Maj. Laith Jabbar Al Tememey, 1st Company commander, 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade. “We are making sure they can have a better future.”
Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and the Iraqi soldiers visited several of Fallujah’s schools. They patrolled through the town, both on foot and mounted aboard trucks loaded with furniture and supplies, waving to the smiling schoolchildren as they passed by.
The convoy stopped every few blocks to let the Iraqi soldiers speak with teachers, headmasters and students to find out what supplies their schools needed. The faculty provided the troops with tours of their classrooms, showing them first hand the condition of the chalkboards and school desks. Additionally, the soldiers spoke to and interacted with the children.
After assessing the school, the troops offloaded chalkboards and desks from their trucks. They unpacked and nailed up the boards, while the schoolchildren helped bring desks inside.
For the schools that did not need new chalkboards and furniture, the soldiers left them boxes of writing supplies.
On the first day of Operation Blackboard, the troops visited seven schools and handed out approximately 28 blackboards, 40 desks and thousands of pens, pencils, and boxes of chalk.
At every school the troops visited, the faculty expressed their gratitude.
“Since Iraqi and U.S. forces started coming here, they’ve been helping us out,” stated Ali Jameel Hamen, the assistant headmaster at the Al-Aibid school here. “Before, the schools were in bad condition, because nobody took care of them. Now, I spend less time cleaning up, and have more to give to my kids and teachers.”
Hamen added that this sentiment is shared by educators throughout Iraq.
“We have a group called the ‘Love Bridge,’ which talks to all the teachers across the country and makes sure the kids have everything they need for a good education. With the help of the troops, we are helping rebuild the schools, and we are helping rebuild Iraq.”
The soldiers also shared the teachers’ joy at helping rebuild the nation.
“It is very good that we are giving away these school supplies,” said Pvt. Kazim Raad Dahell, a soldier with the ISF’s 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade. “It will help the kids learn, so they can continue to rebuild Iraq.”
Al Tememey added that hopefully his soldiers’ actions today will encourage the adolescent boys attending many of these schools to consider helping shape their country’s future by enlisting in the Iraqi army or police forces upon completing their schooling.
Marine 1st Lt. Thomas Waller, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s executive officer, agreed.
“You have a bunch of children who in a few years are going to be fighting-age males. When it comes time for them to decide whether they want to be an insurgent or an Iraqi military member, they’ll look back to some of these experiences and say, ‘wow, I remember Iraqi military coming here and hanging chalkboards at my school, and they seemed to be pretty decent guys.’”
Waller added that today was only the beginning of Operation Blackboard. Over the next several months, the Iraqi soldiers and his Marines will continue visiting Fallujah’s schools to distribute more supplies and visit with the children.
Through these continued operations, the troops are helping make Iraq a safer place, one child at a time.
“I think the future of Iraq is going to be very beautiful,” stated Al Tememey. “The people are starting to believe in freedom. We (the soldiers) are ready to defend our country and help the kids, the future of Iraq.”