FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Run-down is much too soft a word to use. Perhaps ruined or destroyed better describes the condition of many of Fallujah’s schools. Bullet holes pockmark the graffiti coated outside walls of those that haven’t been completely destroyed.
Inside the classrooms, electric fixtures have been torn out and children sit in school desks that seem ready to fall apart. Yet the kids on recess jovially kick a soccer ball around on a barren school courtyard.
A convoy of trucks and military vehicles pulling up their school sends a wave of excitement through the children as they begin cheering.
Such are the feelings Marines like Lance Cpl. Brandon C. Dinkins and the Iraqi soldiers here help spread from school to school here.
On May 12, the machinegunner and his fellow Marines with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based infantry unit, 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and Iraqi Security Forces here continued conducting Operation Blackboard, a joint civil-military operations helping to rebuild the schools here.
Dinkins, a 19-year-old Shreveport, La. native, and fellow Marines provide perimeter security while Iraqi soldiers replace worn-out blackboards inside classrooms with new ones and hand out school supplies.
“I come out here with the XO (company executive officer), and I’m usually his security guy and his radio man,” explained the 2004 C.E. Byrd High School graduate. “Sometimes, I help him and the Iraqi soldiers set up the blackboards.”
During previous visits, the Iraqi soldiers and Marine personnel throughout the city also distributed new school desks and writing supplies to various schools. For the May 12 evolution of Blackboard, the Marines and soldiers visited three schools and installed 12 new boards.
However, Dinkins and his Marines only play a supporting role in Blackboard. Iraqi soldiers perform the actual hanging of the boards and using this opportunity to get face-to-face time with the children.
Soldiers also ask the faculty if they know of any insurgent activity in the area. All the while, they are earning the trust of people who have traditionally associated uniformed men with corruption and an oppressive regime.
“We used to be afraid of the Iraqi forces, but when we see them working for our citizens like this, we see that they mean to help the community,” stated Khalid Hameed Abdullah, headmaster at the Al-Akman school here. “This is really good. The soldiers came down here, and asked us what we needed. Before, we had very little. Now, we’re starting to have enough supplies.”
“I think it’s a good idea, showing the community that we care and that we’re here to help them, not here to enforce strict rules, Dinkins said, agreeing with Abdullah. The last mission I went on, I helped set up a few blackboards. They (teachers) thank you for it when you’re done.”
Dinkins added that in addition to re-supplying the schools, Blackboard gives the Marines and Iraqi soldiers a chance to interact with the local children.
“You can tell the community really appreciates things like this,” he continued. “The kids are pretty cool; they’re always like, ‘Mister, mister, candy, candy. I get care packages in the mail, and I can’t eat everything, so I’ll usually give some to the kids.”
Day by day, missions like Blackboard are helping win the war on terrorism here not through bullets, but by earning the people’s trust and goodwill.