AL UBAYDI, Iraq -- The 5th Civil Affairs Group Marine wanted to give the local Iraqi children at a school in Old Ubaydi some candy, but they hung back at first.
“I had jelly beans in one cargo pocket and a handful of dimes in the other,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher F. Tustin, a Philadelphia native and a civil affairs Marine in direct support of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, after a school visit.
Many of the girls were frightened when they first encountered the Marines from the CAG and Weapons Company, who had traveled to the local, all-girls school in Old Ubaydi April 27.
“Some of them started to cry and most of them ran away from us screaming,” said the 2000 Westchester University graduate. “I felt bad, but we had a mission to do.”
Through the translators, the children began to realize that the Marines were not there to harm them, but to help them.
“After we explained that we’re there for, the kids started to warm up to us,” Tustin said. “You know they were typical little girls. They giggled and waved at us and truly enjoyed having us there.”
Their mission was to assess the condition of the schools and gain an idea of what type of school supplies they needed.
This was the 1994 Cardinal-O’Hare High School graduate’s first time visiting an Iraqi all-girl school.
“I’ve seen how the boys go to school, but we were never allowed to see the girls,” said Tustin. “That’s just how their society is. So this was the first time many of them saw Americans.”
“We found out they didn’t have a lot of supplies and the sanitation of the school was less than satisfactory,” said the 28-year-old.
According to Tustin, seeing the conditions they go to school in humbled him.
“The schools here can’t even compare to the schools in the United States. These schools would never pass in the states. I think the average American doesn’t realize the level of poverty these people go through,” he said.
Another Marine, Pfc. Christopher L. Parra, 25, agreed with Tustin on the quality of schools in this area of Iraq.
“Even some of the worst poverty areas in the U.S. don’t compare to the poverty these kids face and most of these kids will never see anything better, but that’s what we’re here for; to help them build a better life,” said the Long Beach, Calif., native and father of two. “I feel like giving them everything I have, and I want to let them know that we can give them a better life if they allow us to and help us rid this country of terrorists.”
Tustin and Parra both explain how they are forever changed by the experience they had here.
“You realize that you have to sometimes put the “Warrior” aside, so to speak, and help the good people of Iraq that have suffered for so many years,” Tustin said. “Today I am changed because seeing these kids has shown me the softer, innocent side of this place. It’s not all of the violence that you see on television. I’ll never forget this.”