By Spc. Amanda Morrissey
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KIRKUK, Iraq (May 26, 2007) – Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers received a hero's welcome when they arrived with a load of supplies for the Topqabasi Primary School in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Saturday.
Iraqi Soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division, with the assistance of U.S. Soldiers from Forward Operating Base Warrior, delivered 300 backpacks filled with school supplies.
Soldiers were treated to a singing recital by a group of young girls while a handful of boys offered water, soda and sweets to the visiting troops.
"The kids are the future of Iraq," said Maj. Zyad Junade, the 2-4 IA Div. civil affairs officer. "We want to change their impressions of Iraqi soldiers from being something scary, so that they see us as good people trying to help.
"Also, it feels good to make the kids happy and see them smile," Zyad added.
In that aspect, the mission was a rousing success. Teachers and Soldiers teamed up to hand out the hundreds of colorful backpacks with cartoon characters emblazoned on the fronts.
Afterwards, groups of children huddled together, showing off their new bags and pulling out their loot of pencils, papers, crayons and more.
This is the first of four school supply missions scheduled for Kirkuk in the near future. The Topqabasi student population of approximately 250 first through sixth graders is predominately Turkish. The other three schools are likewise divided along ethnic lines representing Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian student populations.
"We started with this school in an effort to help multiple schools and to give to all the ethnic groups in Kirkuk," Zyad said.
Primarily an Iraqi army endeavor, the school supply mission was the "brainchild" of Zyad. He coordinated with local Iraqi police to help secure the area, as well as having Iraqi and U.S. security elements present nearby.
He also requested assistance in gathering together the backpacks and school supplies to be delivered to the kids.
"Maj. Zyad asked if we would go with his soldiers to do this school supply drop," said Sgt. 1st Class Vince Dy, a team sergeant with B Company, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion. "He wanted to let the Iraqi people see Iraqi army and U.S. Soldiers working together and helping each other on this goodwill mission."
The project came on short notice for the Soldiers who participated in the event. In the two-day window before the first visit, Dy worked tirelessly, gathering 1,000 backpacks for distribution to the various schools. Dy also coordinated with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division Soldiers to provide security.
The smiling faces of the kids as they pulled out papers and crayons from their brightly colored bags more than made up for the rush that Dy and his team were put through, he said.
"I personally liked doing this," Dy said. "It gives us an opportunity to show the kids and their parents that we're not the bad guys. They see instead that we're working with Iraqi security forces and trying to build a relationship with the Iraqi people."