FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Among the top stressors deployed service members experience is homesickness and missing their family members thousands of miles away.
Although Pfc. Carlos Bonano left a son behind to come to Iraq, a part of him still feels close to home, especially when he’s helping to build a better future for the children of Iraq.
“I love just being there, being able to feel their hands, and touch their hair,” explained the motor transport operator with the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment referring to the Iraqi children. “I have a child myself, so I’m able to relate to them real easily.”
For the 28-year-old Lancaster, Penn. native, performing civil-military operations alongside the local children is what motivates him through the long, hot days.
“This is the best part of the mission of being in Iraq,” stated Bonano, a former student at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). “The best part is doing stuff for the children and being able to see the smiles on their faces.”
On May 18, Bonano’s unit worked alongside the Iraqi Security Forces who visited two schools in Fallujah’s Jolan Park area, met and spoke with the faculty, and deliver 59 desks for the students.
The joint military team and the teachers assessed the facilities to determine how the Iraqi and U.S. forces could help restore the buildings to provide a better learning environment for the children.
Bonano and his fellow Marines maintained perimeter security, while the Iraqi soldiers introduced themselves to the school headmasters and administrators.
Afterward, the faculty walked the soldiers and Marines through the schools, pointing out how their buildings needed electricity, restroom improvements, and new furniture.
Upon jotting down these needs, Bonano’s unit drove to a nearby ISF base of operations to pick up school desks. Many of the soldiers’ bases throughout Fallujah are located in former schools, so the Iraqi troops maintain a supply of desks to bring along on operations such as these.
After loading the desks into Bonano’s and another Marine’s seven-ton truck, the troops returned to the schools. There, contracted workers from the Northern Fallujah workforce, the Iraqi soldiers, and several Marines offloaded the furniture and brought it into the classrooms.
“We are grateful to the forces for working with us to help all the kids who are studying here,” stated Ammar Fa’ez Ahmad, headmaster at the Zaid Bin Al-Argam primary school for boys.
While the faculty members expressed their gratitude, local children smiled and waved as they saw the improvements being made on their schools.
“This was my first time coming to Jolan Park to visit the children and the schools,” said Bonano, who has primarily been driving a truck full of fuel and refilling tanks aboard his unit’s nearby base of operations, Camp Baharia. “I wish I’d brought my camera, so I could be able to look back and see them smiling and laughing.”
First Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel will continue coordinating with local contractors and the Iraqi soldiers to improve the schools. Already, the soldiers have hung up several new chalkboards inside the classrooms.
Bonano stated that operations such as these help build a bond with the local community and help end insurgent activity.
“We’re definitely making a difference here, because we’re interacting with the people of Iraq. We’re here to help them, so they can become a better country.”