Marines help open Iraqi minds

23 Jan 2007 | Lance Cpl. Erik Villagran

Marines trying to help the community are having a positive impact on Iraqi children’s education.

Marines with 4th Civil Affairs Group, attached to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, completed rebuilding a school in the city Jan. 23.

“Our main effort was to get kids off the streets and back in school,” said Gunnery Sgt. David T. Orsi, a 33-year-old civil affairs team chief from Niagara Falls, N.Y. “We also wanted to provide a good school environment.”

The project to rebuild the school was passed on to them from 3rd CAG, the unit that came before them. They came up with the idea and 4th CAG made it happen. It took two months for them to get the job done.

“The plan to rebuild the school was made May 12,” said Maj. Jeff P. Olson, a 41-year-old civil affairs team commander from Roscoe, Ill. “We got a contractor Nov. 22 and finished about a month ahead of time.”

The project was finished early because Marines didn’t face many problems along the way. They made sure a staff was ready to take over the school and everything was functioning properly .

“We had to make sure there were teachers and a schoolmaster assigned to the school,” Olson said. “There was a point when there wasn’t much progress and I had to put pressure on the contractors to finish.”

The task was not easy for the Iraqi contractors who were hired. They had to refurbish the inside of the school and around the school.

“The building had a lot of roof damage, wall damage and the wall around the school was pretty much destroyed,” Orsi said. “The school did not have any chalkboards, heaters or anything like that.”

Marines visited the school to see the finished product and were surprised to see the difference.

“The renovation they have done for the school is new walls, new flooring and new furniture,” said Sgt. Liam T. Dwyer, a 25-year-old civil affairs Marine from Southbury, Conn. “It’s actually been a 180-degree turnaround.”

Marines were greeted by smiling children when they walked through the freshly painted halls, Olsen said. The adults at the school were also very welcoming to the Marines.

“There were a lot of people inside the school,” Olson said. “It’s almost like a community center. There was school in session but all the ladies were there.”

Marines have also donated supplies for the children of the school. The supplies were donated by the “America’s Battalion’s” Key Volunteer Network through Project Hadi.  The project was named after a seven-year-old Iraqi girl who was injured in a fall in Al Karmah.  The Marines and Corpsmen of Weapons Company helped to save her life after she was injured.    

“Project Hadi was a project that sent toys, clothing and school supplies to the children,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris M. Hearld, a 27-year-old religious program specialist from Tuscaloosa, Ala. “They sent pencils, pens, paper and other school supplies.”

Marines believe that projects like this show the Iraqi people that Marines are trying to make their lives better. It was a project the city council wanted done and the Marines came through for them.

“It improves the relationship with the people because it shows we care,” Dwyer said. “It shows we’re not just here to go door to door and get the bad guy. We’re here to help the people.”

Marines were very pleased with how the project turned out. They were also happy to see that the children were enjoying the new school.

“I think it turned out great,” Orsi said. “The contractors did a good job. They put a lot of work into it, which is always good.”