News: Soldiers make learning easier for Iraqi children
By Spc. Karl Johnson
FOB MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq - Ask Iraqi children what they want to be when they grow up. You'll find little difference in the hopes and dreams of Iraqi children from that of American children. Whether to be a doctor, a policeman or a businessman, these children imagine themselves as successful adults and see no reason why their goals should not come true.
They cram into schools throughout Iraq, sometimes without even the simplest of learning materials that most take for granted. These children face an uphill struggle to success, but there are those who share in their goals and do everything they can to help the children receive the best education possible.
Armed with hammers, drills and stacks of wood in place of their usual rifles, civil affairs Soldiers based out of Forward Operating Base Mahmudiyah in southern Baghdad began refurbishing desks for local schools March 9.
"We've been to a lot of schools in the area, and we've found classrooms with three, sometimes four, children squeezed into one desk space," said Sgt. Timothy Atz, a medic attached to Company C, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion.
A reserve Soldier and journeyman carpenter when at home in St. Paul, Minn., Atz takes a special interest in projects like these.
"We've found that nearly all the schools have a surplus of old desk frames but lack the material, the money or the lumber to fix them," he said.
The building supplies necessary for refurbishing school desks are one thing these Soldiers have an abundance of. With assistance projects like these set as a high priority, stores of construction supplies have been compiled so civil affairs teams may complete such projects to help the Iraqi people.
"With the supplies that we have, we could quite literally rebuild several hundred desks," said Atz. "It's both simple and cost effective."
Considering the number of schools in need, the surplus of supplies is good.
"The numbers vary from school to school, but anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of their desks are broken," said Cpt. Darrell Retheford, a team leader for Company C, 490th CA Bn.
With nearly every school in the area in need of new desks, the Soldiers working on the project have their work cut out for them.
"We do as much of the work as we can here on FOB Mahmudiyah," said Retheford. "Once we get to the schools, all we have to do is put the desks together."
At the surface, rebuilding these desks may seem like a minor project, but the possibilities from helping these children are limitless. For every desk that is refurbished, there is an Iraqi classroom that is less overcrowded, allowing the children to receive a better education.
"They have plenty of room in the schools, but because they're limited to desks, they put a lot of kids into one room," said Atz.
It's hoped that with the increased number of desks, the children will begin to be less crowded and thus be able to receive more individual attention from their instructors. The project has not only helped the children, but has also been very positive for the Soldiers who worked to make it possible.
"It gives us a sense of accomplishment to help these children out," said Atz. "Installing these desks and seeing the joy it puts on the kids faces is priceless."
The Soldiers have seen the positive impact of their missions in support of the area schools. They've done everything from delivering school supplies to rebuilding infrastructure.
"The teachers and the people in the area have been very grateful and really appreciate our help," said Retheford.
The children of Iraq face an uphill struggle to success, but with their heads focused on the chalkboard and their hearts on their dreams, the children will be able to take the assistance given to them by the Soldiers of Co. C, 490th CA Bn. and achieve their goals.