COMBAT OUTPOST AKASHAT, Iraq --
Local Iraqi Police teamed up with Marines and sailors from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, Jan. 14 to give students something to look forward to after finishing their annual standardized tests at Akashat Primary School.
About 20 boxes of children’s winter clothing, stuffed animals, soccer balls, candy and other snacks were sent to the Marines of 2/25 by family, friends and patriotic organizations back home in the States.
Sgt. Joseph Zuza, the operations chief for Company G’s police transition team, has been working almost daily with the officers from the Akashat Police Station to help them become a more professional security force that is also an integral part of the local community.
To this end, Zuza, a 23-year-old Marine from Manville, N.J., and his team went to the school with the Iraqi police officers to give the police the opportunity to distribute the supplies to the students.
“This was great,” said Zuza. “I think it gave them a new face in the community. In many parts of rural Iraq, all the people know of police authority is the brutality they saw under the Saddam Hussein regime. These guys are fresh and have a progressive attitude. This gave them a chance to show their human side and let the people know that they’re here to help; not to be an oppressive authority figure.”
Zuza described the dramatic changes he’s seen in the past four months here, explaining how the local citizens’ perception of the police has gone from fear or indifference to warmth and hospitality. Working with U.S. government-contracted international police advisors here, the Marines also urged the police to venture into other nearby towns and desert settlements to meet the citizens and let them know that the new mission of the Iraqi police is to protect and serve.
“We focused them on community policing, getting to know the people on the streets to see if they have problems,” said Zuza. “They have now developed a rapport…. Overall, it’s been a great success. The IPs (Iraqi Police) have a long road ahead, but they’ve made leaps and bounds in their ability to do their job well. Hopefully after we leave, they will continue on that track.”
1st Lt. Khamis Jamal Hamid, 31, the Akashat deputy police chief, coordinated with the school principal to visit the local primary school.
“There is great value to what we did on this operation today,” said Hamid through interpretation. “It was a community melt. Before, the kids would think, ‘Yeah, there goes the IPs.’ Now, we have a developed a more positive relationship.”
Hamid explained that although he and his officers handed out most of the items to the students, the children realized that Coalition Forces brought these presents to help alleviate the suffering in this impoverished region.
The relationship that exists between Coalition Forces, the Iraqi Police here, and the people of Akashat has been nurtured by the Marines and sailors of 2/25, as well as the previous Coalition units which have served in this town of about 1,500 citizens over the past several years, according to Hamid.
Abdul Fatah Saoud Matar, the school principal, expressed his deep thanks to the people in America who donated and sent the gifts to Iraq.
More than 200 stuffed animals which the Marines distributed Jan. 14 were sent to Iraq by private citizens from all over America who made their donations through Beanies for Baghdad, a non-profit group under the umbrella of America Supports You, a Department of Defense organization.
Jade and Joslin Logan, twin 16-year-old sisters from Chattanooga, Tenn., collected the mittens, hats, scarves and other winter clothing from students at schools throughout their city and surrounding area during a drive they held in November to help the children of Iraq. The clothing was then mailed to the Marines of 2/25 by Kellie Smith, 33, from Chattanooga, who has a friend currently serving with the battalion.
“My friends and I spent many hours working on this important cause. We truly enjoyed the time we shared and worked together knowing we were helping the children of Iraq,” said Smith. “For a month, we made signs and donation boxes, collected donations, folded clothes and packed boxes, and we shipped them all with added love for children…. I am very thankful for the Marines of 2/25 and the care they show to these children in taking the time and energy to help them. Our troops in Iraq touch so many lives, not only for freedom, but even more importantly for humanity.”
The event was also a morale boost for the Marines and sailors who accompanied the police to the school, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Hancock, 27, a U.S. Navy Reservist from Piscataway, N.J. who is on his first tour with the Marines in Iraq. In his civilian career, Hancock is an intensive care unit nurse at a hospital in Plainfield, N.J.
“Years down the road, when these guys look back on their time in Iraq, this is the kind of thing they’ll remember, and think, ‘I really did something positive there,’” said Hancock, indicating the Marines handing out comfort items and interacting with the children in the school courtyard.
The reservists of Company G are scheduled to redeploy back to their home training center in Dover, N.J. in the spring. They will go through a short de-mobilization period, and then return to their civilian lives and careers. But they will take with them the knowledge that they played an integral role in the transition of Iraq to a free democracy, where the people they met and worked with will have the opportunity to choose their own future.