FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Last year the word ‘Fallujah’ was synonymous with war, insurgency and destruction.
Now, the wreckage from previous conflict remains evident as one observes the crumbled buildings and bullet-hole riddled walls. Despite living amongst their ruined homes and businesses, the city residents displayed a glimmer of hope, May 12, as one unique patrol of Iraqi and American troops walked into their children’s schools.
With hammers and nails in hand, the soldiers went about their mission: to rebuild their city by helping out the nation’s youth.
Today was part of the ongoing joint Iraqi and American civil-military project, Operation Blackboard. Iraqi soldiers like Staff Sgt. Khalid Fareeq Shakir spoke to the local schools’ headmasters and headmistresses to find out what supplies the students needed.
Afterward, the faculties offered them tours of the schoolhouses, showing the soldiers what blackboards needed replacing. Shakir’s soldiers would then take the old boards down, and hang up brand new ones they’d brought.
“We are soldiers, but we are human beings as well,” Shakir explained. “It is our country; it is our responsibility to rebuild it. We have to help out the community in order to do this.”
As Shakir’s soldiers hung up new blackboards and interacted with the school children, Marines from Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment helped provide perimeter security and oversee the work.
For the May 12 evolution of ‘Blackboard,’ the soldiers visited three schools and installed 12 new boards.
As they hung up these boards, the troops were accomplishing more than helping the children. In a country where uniformed men were associated with an oppressive regime, operations such as these are helping the soldiers earn the citizens’ trust.
This blossoming relationship was evident as the faculty expressed their gratitude at every school the troops visited.
“We used to be afraid of the Iraqi forces, but when we see them working for our citizens like this, we see 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.”
Abdullah added that he had an “absolutely optimistic outlook on the future.”
Shakir believes his soldiers are also positive role models for Fallujah’s kids.
“They have seen the Iraqi soldiers helping, so they appreciate this,” he continued. He added that this may influence the children to someday look at joining the Iraqi army as a career possibility.
However, the Iraqi army’s ultimate goal with Operation Blackboard is for the nation’s own soldiers to help rebuild Fallujah by giving its future generation of leaders all the educational tools they’ll need to become successful.
“It is our responsibility to help our kids,” Shakir said. “They are our future.”