AL QA’IM, Iraq --
The schoolmaster blows his whistle. Feet scamper out of the classrooms to assemble in the school courtyard. Smiles forced their way through the beaming faces of Iraqi children as the Marines of Company I, Task Force 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, filtered into the school with much needed supplies.
The Marines recently visited schools on the outskirts of Ubaydi to deliver notebooks, pencils and other school supplies to nearly 400 children, in order to continue building relations with the local populace.
“This is for the Iraqi children and people in our (area of operations), so they can see us doing things other than operations with a military purpose,” said Capt. T.J. Owens, the commanding officer of Company I. “When the kids see Americans doing good deeds like this, they grow up with that impression of Americans in their minds. The actions Marines take now have endearing implications for the future.”
The Marines presented the schoolmasters with new soccer balls for the schools before ensuring each child received an individual package of various school supplies.
The supplies were available because of an overwhelming response from families, friends and church groups back home, said Owens.
The students lined up in their respective grade levels as they peered in delight over shoulders to catch a glimpse of the Marines handing out supplies.
“It’s not easy bringing events like this together considering things like planning, security, transportation, supplies and reconnaissance, but when you see the looks on the children’s faces, all that doesn’t matter anymore,” Owens said. “There’s a reward that comes with looking into the face of a child, I don’t care what nationality that child is.”
This is the first of many humanitarian efforts for Company I. The school-supply drive, though successful, only reached 10 percent of the schools in their area of operations.
"Some people are still recovering from the early portions of the war and what the terrorists did,” said Owens. “This can’t just be putting a band-aid on. What we’re doing is part of a campaign that coalition forces all over Iraq are taking part in.”
The end results, starting from the generous donation of supplies, can be seen in the joy these students find in the simplicity of a pencil. The realization of what coalition forces are trying to achieve in the area is not only becoming apparent to Iraqi adults but to their children as well.
“We have to keep carrying the torch,” Owens said. “It continues to burn harder and brighter.”