By Sgt. Jason Stadel, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 10, 2008 - After months of oppression from al Qaeda in Iraq, the southern Baghdad community of Hawr Rajab is coming back to life. Coalition and Iraqi efforts now are focused on rebuilding the economy. One initiative garnered 50 students for classes at the "Village of Hope," a vocational school designed to train Hawr Rajab residents the basics of construction.
Soldiers from 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, provide security at construction sites, and classes are taught by U.S. Air Force airmen with occupation specialties in construction.
The airmen-turned-teachers are with 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron, headquartered at Balad Air Base. The Village of Hope team has about 30 members who conduct classes from Patrol Base Stone, a coalition outpost in the heart of the community.
Tech. Sgt. Jacob Wilcock, a structural class instructor, said he had to adjust his mindset from pounding nails to teaching. "As builders, we are more attuned to seeing a completed structure or physical progress at the end of a work day," said Wilcock, from Phoenix. "Teaching is very rewarding, but the reward is seeing the students understand the lesson and do well on a practical exercise."
In addition to learning the basics of building over the three-month course, students will rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by extremists. Rebuilding homes is part of the lesson plan and, as an added incentive, students are paid for attending class.
"The students are very receptive, ecstatic and happy about the school," said Capt. Josh Aldred, Village of Hope project manager. "They are very grateful and fully understand we're here to help."
Local businesses will also benefit from the Village of Hope project. When classroom instruction ends and hands-on training begins, building materials available locally will be purchased from Hawr Rajab vendors.
"Many come up to say that this is the best thing that has ever happened here," Aldred said.
To ensure a steady supply of building materials, a brick and concrete block maker from Hawr Rajab was awarded a Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team micro-grant to help improve his business. Airmen also gave the business owner and his employees some tips on how to make products more efficiently.
"He's been making blocks for a long time and does good work," said Master Sgt. Richard Kapp, the liaison between the Army and Air Force on the project. "We just showed him how to improve the products he puts out."
Bruce Bailey, Baghdad-7 ePRT international development advisor, said Hawr Rajab is heading in the right direction to get back on its feet. "They're near Baghdad; they have a main road going through the community; and they're one of the last stops before you get to the farms. Hawr Rajab has great economic potential."
Airmen also see rewards coming from their new line of work. "I've deployed five times, but I've never had the chance to help someone change their life," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Collins, plumbing class instructor, from Fort Walton Beach, Fla. "This training will help them for the rest of their lives."
(Army Sgt. Jason Stadel is assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Public Affairs Office.)