Photo Information

FALLUJAH, Iraq - 1st Lt. Thomas Waller, executive officer for Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, left, and Sgt. Royes Gernandt, a machine gun section leader with Company B, right, carry boxes of writing supplies and walk toward a school here May 2. Iraqi Security Forces and Marines here visited local schools to distribute blackboards, school desks, and writing supplies as part of the ongoing joint civil-military mission, "Operation Blackboard."

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

N.C. native, fellow Marines help Iraqi children build better future

2 May 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

One thing makes the hours Cpl. Dan Plane and his fellow Marines spend toiling under the scorching Iraqi sun worth it; the smiles, waves and cheers kids give them as they patrol by.

Today, those screams of delight were amplified tenfold as the children saw the troops walking through.  Perhaps it was also because of the cargo inside their convoy’s trucks and the boxes they carried.

“Today, we’re here trying to help out the locals by giving the school kids better equipment,” stated Plane, a machine gunner with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based infantry unit, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.  “I’m out here providing security, making sure everything stays safe out here.”

The 20-year-old Boone, N.C. native referred to his role during “Operation Blackboard,” a joint civil-military operation during which fellow Marines and Iraqi Security Forces visited local schools to distribute blackboards, furniture, and writing supplies.

On May 2, the first day of the operation, the 2003 Watauga High School graduate’s unit and the Iraqi soldiers patrolled through the city streets and visited seven schools.

At each stop, Marines like Plane provided perimeter security, while Iraqi and Marine leaders spoke to the headmasters and headmistresses to determine what supplies their students needed.  Afterward, the Iraqi forces would hang the new blackboards the classrooms had requested. 

Elsewhere, troops would hand the faculty boxes of pens, pencils and chalk.

“We tried to hand out enough supplies so every child could at least be able to have one,” explained 1st Lt. Thomas Waller, Company B’s executive officer.

Additionally, the Iraqi forces distributed truckloads worth of school desks.

“All of the Iraqi bases in our AO (area of operation) are in former schools, so there was a certain amount of desks inside there already,” Waller explained.  “When we do operations like this today, they bring them along and hand them out.”

At every stop, the school’s faculty expressed their gratitude as they received their new goods.

“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.”

By the day’s end, the troops had handed out approximately 28 blackboards, 40 desks, 8,000 pens, 5,000 pencils and 25 boxes of chalk.

All the while, Plane and fellow Company B infantrymen provided area security and interacted with the children. 

“I think it’s important that we do things like this to help out the kids,” Plane said.  “They’re the ones who are going to have to make the change.  The new generation of youngsters are the ones that are going to make a difference in this country.”

These operations are also beneficial in helping recruit future ISF personnel.

“You have a bunch of children who in a few years are going to be fighting-age males,” Waller stated.  “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, his Marines and ISF will keep visiting Fallujah’s schools to distribute more supplies and visit with the children.

Plane and fellow Company B personnel also continue conducting counter-insurgency operations alongside ISF as they perform these civil-military missions.  Since their arrival here in mid-March, the troops have apprehended several known insurgent supporters and provided security and stability to the city’s residents.

The Marines also help man guard posts at Entry Control Point 2.  Here, they search all vehicles and personnel entering Fallujah, looking for insurgents, weapons and anti-Coalition/Iraqi government propaganda.

Despite these numerous tasks, Marines like Plane remain positive as they carry out their mission, hopeful that Iraq will enjoy a prosperous future.

“Overall, this deployment has gone by pretty fast and smooth,” Plane stated.  “Things are looking promising.”