GHARTAN, Iraq --
Iraqi soldiers with 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, did their best to put smiles on the faces of local children here July 30.
The Iraqi troops were accompanied by Marines and sailors with the military transition team, or MTT, assigned to 3rd Brigade. Together, the coalition team took the childrens’ minds off of the strife around them and helped brighten their day. The children were encouraged to bring their report cards as they would be rewarded for good grades.
“We took donations from American children, such as soccer balls and toys, and distributed them to the local populous in order to help the needy in the area and boost public opinion of Iraqi and Coalition Forces,” said Staff Sgt. Eric M. Sandoval, 28, from Springfield, Ohio. “Out here it’s all about the populace’s opinion. Insurgents use propaganda against the Iraqi Government and its people to sway them toward supporting the insurgency.”
The rewards started small with the battalion commander, Col. Mohamed Nashmi Winays, passing out soccer t-shirts to a handful of lucky kids. After the shirts were gone, the real fun began.
As the children filtered into the sunlit school with smiles on their faces, one Marine said even the multinational troops benefited from the mission.
“Seeing the (Iraqi Army) interact and seeing the kids having a good time,” said Cpl. Guillermo L. Fargas, Company Two’s MTT advisor, “that’s what is really rewarding. It’s like, for a second, everybody is a kid again.”
Operations like this are essential to defeating the terror and intimidation campaign terrorists levy against the innocent populace. A soccer ball in the hands of a child can go a long way toward ending that campaign.
“Although we are out here for the children right now, the Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces are also gathering information about what problems the locals are having and how we can help,” said Fargas, 24, from Bronx, N.Y. “Today we learned that they want to see more IA in their area.”
The Iraqi soldiers are not from this area, having been recruited from all over the country. Despite being strangers in the village, they have been quickly accepted by the people. This area is also benefiting from their own sons who are joining forces with the IA and the Iraqi police in the form of Neighborhood Watch and Provincial Security Forces to prevent and fight the insurgency. These young men are responding to their sheik’s wishes and taking up arms alongside Coalition Forces to defeat the insurgency.
“This is an outreach to get (everyone) working together,” said Lt. Col. Thomas K. Hobbs, the MTT team chief. “We are trying hard to get Neighborhood Watch into sanctioned Iraqi Police, so they can relieve the Iraqi army, and the Iraqi army can worry about protecting their own country and let the police handle policing. When that occurs, there will be no environment for an insurgency to flourish and we can begin to help them repair their economy and infrastructure.”