By Cpl. Ben Washburn, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 28, 2007 - Despite being on the ground here for only a month, the 4-64th Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, has hit the ground running. The "Tuskers" -- currently operating in the southern region of the Iraqi capital attached to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division -- continued their efforts to improve the life of Iraqi citizens by visiting two schools in the Saydiyah neighborhood Nov. 26.
The improvements in the Sunni neighborhood are important to Army Col. Ricky D. Gibbs, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander.
"I want to be sure the government is taking care of all the people," Gibbs said.
With students lined up outside holding welcome signs, the soldiers first stopped by the National Reconciliation High School for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the reopening of the school. Inside the school for 220 students, which stands away from the city, is new paint, windows, and electrical wiring. The renovation of the school was the result of efforts by the "Tuskers" and the "Vanguards" of the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which returned home to Germany earlier this month.
Smiling school girls gathered in groups outside and asked the soldiers in broken English, "What's your name?" One soldier said he was able to see the results of his hard work.
"The better the area gets, the better it makes you feel, because it means you are doing your job," said Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Haynsworth, Company C, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment.
Just a short walk from the National Reconciliation High School sits the Ishtar Elementary School, tucked away in a block of buildings, providing stark contrast to the stand-alone campus of the larger school yards away. Again, soldiers were met outside by the student body and the school administrators. The soldiers greeted many of the students outside, shook their hands, and communicated with universal hand gestures.
The children received new backpacks from the soldiers as a sign of friendship.
"We've made friends with the people in the area, which in doing so has drawn the fighters and terrorists from the area," Haynsworth said.
With Iraqi National Police present in this Sunni neighborhood, citizen volunteers assisting with security and coalition forces working with local leaders, the area is a symbol of the transformation that is taking place all across Baghdad.
"Before, the INP couldn't come in here; now that we're friends, there's no problem with the Shiia and the INP coming down here in this area," Haynsworth said.
The opening of the school is a result of the increased security in the area, and the citizens, as well as coalition forces, are safer since the unit arrived, he added.
"Since then, we've not had one small-arms fire incident from this area here, period. No improvised explosive strikes, no small-arms fire."
(Army Cpl. Ben Washburn serves with 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Public Affairs.)