By Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso III
2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The schoolhouse is run down.
Water leaks through numerous cracks in the roof and air conditioners do not operate, effectively causing temperatures inside the building to climb to unbearable lengths.
The walls covered with mold, no doors to the classrooms, broken windows, and cracks in the walls large enough to see the surrounding farmlands.
Despite all this, approximately 600 students at the Al Abbas primary school, located in northwest Baghdad's remote New Taji Nahia, continued to study and garner their education despite these difficult conditions.
Capt. Shaun Wheelwright, a Pinetop, Ariz., native, first visited the school in February and said he was saddened to see the conditions of the school. Wheelwright, the former executive officer for Company A, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds," 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warrior," 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, saw that more than half of their desks were broken, without desktops or seats, and each desk was used for six or more students.
Wheelwright said he wanted to help in any way that he could.
That help began after he told his wife, Keri Wheelwright, about the poor conditions. He said she was also saddened to hear about the conditions and decided to help in anyway she could. She then contacted a Hawaiian-based company, Oils of Aloha, for assistance.
The first donation of school supplies reached the students, April 26. Wheelwright led the "Wolfhounds" and Iraqi army soldiers to the school to hand out the much-needed supplies which were sent by Oils of Aloha.
The Hawaiian-based company sent more than 20 large boxes of supplies, which included pencils, paper, notebooks, rulers, and more.
"We are very happy and grateful," said Braheem Ahmed Hamid, the school's headmaster, after receiving the school supplies, April 26. "We are always in short supply of school supplies."
Wheelwright knew the supplies were a start, but it would not be enough.
Immediately following that visit, the Wolfhound leadership worked with the government of Iraq and applied for funding for reconstruction of the rickety schoolhouse.
The project was approved utilizing Iraqi Commanders Emergency Relief Program and government of Iraq funding resulting in over $260,000 rewarded in June.
"The Al Abbas school was the least functioning school in the area," said Capt. Brian Sweigart, a San Antonio, Texas, native. Sweigart was the commander for Company A, 1st Bn., 27th Inf. Regt., and his unit was responsible for the area which the school was in. "It looked miserable. Mud was everywhere and it looked like it was falling apart. It was a very poor study environment."
The poor educational environment did not deter the children from furthering their education.
"The kids wanted an education, and they had no other choice," Sweigart said. "Three schools in the area were destroyed by terrorists some time ago, and now the Al Abbas school is the only school in the area."
Sweigart relinquished command of Co. A in April, then assumed command of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 27th Inf. Regt., and took the lead of the battalion's embedded Local Reconstruction Team. He is now responsible for acquiring funds, and recommending projects such as the Al Abbas school.
One of his new duties includes inspecting the progress of the reconstruction projects. While traveling to the Al Abbas school to see the finished project, June 17, Sweigart rode in the back of a Stryker armored vehicle with a smile on his face, looking eager to see the school. As the Stryker ramp was lowering, Sweigart yelled, "I'm excited!"
Sweigart wasn't the only one excited.
Sheik Yasin Muhammad Hussein al Halbusi, and Sheik Noori Athiyah Albu Regehba, the tribal sheiks for the area, where present to meet Sweigart and the "Wolfhounds" to walk through the school.
Sweigart, who hasn't seen the school since April, walked through the newly refurbished school with the sheiks. The courtyard and classrooms that were previously muddy are now cemented.
The cracks in the walls were fixed, and the school was resurfaced and painted.
Artwork adorned the exterior of the classrooms, including a map of the region. Environmental control units were installed, desks repaired, and restrooms built. The school looked new.
"I'm impressed," Sweigart said as he walked through what was previously the worse school in the area. "They did a good job [reconstructing the school]. It is above standard."
Muhammad couldn't stop thanking the "Wolfhounds" for their efforts in focusing on this school. "Children from three villages attend this school, as this is the only school in the area. It is serving all the families and children in this area," he said.
"Kids are happy that the school is rebuilt," Noori said. "Kids use to be full of mud before. Now they can go to class with clean shoes."
The "Wolfhounds" are no stranger to this excitement over schools. They have already completed construction of six schools in the area, and are currently assisting in the construction of eight others.
"Education is the foundation for any country," stated Capt. Mark Weber, a Montrose, Penn., native, and effects coordinator with 1st Bn., 27th Inf. Regt. "Providing an environment where the students are able to concentrate on their studies will develop the next set of leaders for Iraq."
This work, Wolfhounds, GoI work to rebuild education, by SFC Jb Jaso, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.