Iraqis receive medical care at school opening

29 Jun 2007 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Zahn

Iraqi citizens in this small community recently celebrated the opening of another school for their children. The Al Fajr School is a high school for teenage boys, giving them a place to learn and improve their quality of life in a safe environment. The school is yet another sign of hope for the once-volatile Al Anbar Province.

The school had been a work in progress for the last two months. A contractor from the community was responsible for the work: fixing windows, painting walls, rewiring the electrical wiring and building an additional classroom. On June 28, the people, including local leaders, showed up in large numbers to celebrate the reopening of the school.

“We invited a whole lot of people to come out,” said 1st Lt. Curtis L. Thomas, 28, platoon commander for Civil Affairs Team 4, Detachment 3, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “They took the invitation and invited others, so this was probably the most successful school opening that we have had in this area.”

The school had been the site of the first town hall meeting for the greater Husaybah-Sharqiyah area March 24. The meeting set the stage for the progress being made in the area, so it holds a certain sentimental value to the people in the area.

“This is where (our) civil affairs actually got started as far as dealing with the mayor, the sheiks, and the local people,” added Thomas, a 28-year-old Lacrosse, Va., native.

Progress was made in other ways as well. Medical care supervised by Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, was made available to the large crowd of civilians gathered here.

“It was a joint effort,” Thomas said. “We decided to do a civil military operation with the ribbon cutting because schools are primarily a better place to do a medical engagement. It’s almost like a doubleheader. We took care of two people at the same time. We took care of the local high school boys by providing them a school, and we also took care of the local community by assisting them with health services.”

The turnout for this dual ceremony wasn’t as high as other civil affairs projects in the past due to the far reaching effects of terrorism. A local sheik for the area was among those murdered in a bombing in Baghdad recently and the people of the tribe were still mourning his death. However, over 200 people did come out despite the tragedy. High ranking officials such as tribal sheiks, Iraqi Police chiefs, the mayor of Habbaniyah, and local town council members were among those who showed up unafraid.

The ceremony went off without a hitch due to a united security presence by 3/6 Marines from I Company, Iraqi policemen and local citizens who form the tribal neighborhood watch.

“The progress came from security,” said Thomas. “Once security was established for this area more people started to co

\me out and voice their concerns. We were able to take their concerns, compile a list of things that needed to be done in the area, and capitalize upon the essential services that needed to be restored back to the people.”

A project as simple as a school refurbishment can pay off with huge dividends for the local leadership (supported by coalition civil affairs) tasked with helping water the seeds of democracy. It lets the people know that their local leaders are actually making a difference here and progress is being made.

“We see the project start and we see it finish,” said Sgt. Thurman J. Baptiste, 29, from Matchitoches, La. “We make the community happy.”