By Maj. Sean Ryan
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq – A hero's welcome was given by the students of Al Toma Elementary School in eastern Baghdad to the soldiers of the 3rd Tank Battalion, 1st Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division and their military training team. These soldiers, combined with troops from 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, partnered up to give back to the community.
The partnership units provided school supplies, water, toys and medical support to the faculty and students May 14.
The goal of Operation Toma was to provide much-needed support to build better rapport with the students and the neighborhood, according to the tank battalion commander. This was the first time Al Toma Elementary has received support, but the third in the partnership between 3-1-9th Iraqi Army and coalition forces.
The commander, the proponent for the support drive and an Iraqi soldier for 21 years, said he feels residents in the neighborhood support the Iraqi army, but he said he must continue building enduring relationships. Also, he said, by supporting the school and providing supplies, it helps the neighborhood.
The staff and students were very excited to see the soldiers. The students lined up to receive the supplies off the truck and take them into the school. After the supplies were delivered, each classroom was visited. Photos with the Iraqi commander and students were taken while 'Beanie Babies' were handed out.
Approximately 500 stuffed animals were handed out to appreciative students according to Sgt. 1st Class Dana Lescoe of Fort Riley, Kan. Lescoe gets contacted by agencies wanting to support the mission, and for this operation, a Boy Scout Troop from Buda, Ill., provided the toys.
Lescoe said the units have previously donated soccer balls and candy. He said the next task is to donate clothes received from agencies and churches.
"This is a work in progress," Lescoe said, "but believe this is the way to win, helping the people".
The faculty and staff were also given medical attention by Iraqi and coalition medics. Around 25 people were seen.
"We saw everything from aches and pains to stomach ailments," said Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter, a reserve medic from Tumwater, Wash. A few people were referred to local hospitals, but everyone received an assessment. Baxter said both he and the Iraqi medic would make a diagnosis, and then discuss it, establishing a rapport.
Although the items and medical support was graciously accepted, the headmaster of the school said they are in need of everything. The school does not have a generator, which means there is no power. She added that without electricity the ceiling fans in the classrooms can't be used, even as temperatures climb into triple digits.
In addition, the headmaster said, necessities like paper, pencils and pens that are scarce. She said the lack of a copier hampers progress because instead of photocopying tests, the instructors have to either write the questions on the board or write out a test for each student. This is another reason why a steady electricity source, like a generator she said, is so critical to success.
The only thing the school is not short on is enthusiasm, as the students welcomed their pictures being taken and enjoyed the instant gratification of seeing the results on the digital screen.
Overall, progress in the eastern Baghdad neighborhoods is making a difference, but this takes coordination and time according to MiTT member, Capt. Thad Thome.
The Rapid City, S.D., native said to advise Iraqi forces properly, he has to meet with them almost daily, but they are making great strides.
Thome said by procuring items like generators for the residents and missions like this one - donating items to schools – helps create lasting relationships.