By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tami Hillis
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2008 - A convoy rolls up to a small school in the Monsouri area of Iraq, just outside Forward Operating Base Kalsu. At first glance, the school looks abandoned. Then small faces start appearing, and heads lean out the windows. Moments later, helpful school faculty and eager students surround a group of U.S. soldiers assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, from Kalamazoo, Mich.
The soldiers begin delivering backpacks filled with school supplies, soccer balls and notebooks to the al-Raqhaa school for primary and secondary students and the Abu Shear school, for primary students.
"A lot of the missions we're doing right now are school improvements, and this mission helps the kids get the materials they need in order to get an education," Cpl. Markbradley Vincze said about the April 8, 2008 delivery.
Spc. Christopher Ryder said the soldiers try to put a smile on the kids' faces. "It makes me feel like I am actually making a difference," he said. "It shows the kids that we're good people."
There are about 10 schools in the unit's area of operations. Each school has about 800 students, and over time, unit officials hope to get a backback and supplies to each student.
"We've gotten to know the people in our AO (area of operations), and it feels nice doing something good for them," said Spc. Joseph Carroll. "It also gives the Army a positive image."
The unit plans to work with the civil affairs team on a continuous basis until each school has supplies for every student, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Green, target acquisition platoon leader.
"Right now we're using a systematic way of distributing our generosity throughout our (area of operations)," Green said. "So we started with these two schools, and we're kind of going in a clockwise motion around our AO with school drops."
This type of mission helps build relationship between coalition forces and Iraqi residents, he said. "It shows the people that we're not just here for ourselves; we're going to work for the community, work for the children. I think if you win the children, you win the adults. They're kids just like our kids, they just have less."
Pfc. Agustin Aguilar Jr. said he hopes the young Iraqis will remember American soldiers as helpful, "so maybe our kids won't have to be here in 20 years," said.
"They are grateful for anything, and they don't look at us and run away," he said. "They know we're friendly to them."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Tami Hillis is assigned to 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.)