By Gregory Dubin
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 2, 2008 - Several years ago, the diagnosis of baby Noor's rare congenital condition would have been equal to a death sentence. Today, she is on her way to leading a happy and healthy life, thanks to the soldiers of Multinational Division Center. Born with some of her organs outside her body, Noor depended on advanced medical procedures the Iraqi medical system could not provide. Determined to get her the care she needed, doctors from 948th Forward Surgical Team performed an operation that saved her life. Soldiers are making arrangements to send her to the United States for two follow-up surgeries.
Stories like Noor's are increasingly common throughout Multinational Division Center's area of operations. Throughout the region, soldiers are coming to the aid of the often-neglected victims of this conflict: Iraq's children.
From building schools to distributing toys to buying wheelchairs, Task Force Marne soldiers are working to improve the quality of life for Iraqi youth. Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's Company A, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, came to the aid of Abdul Razik Raad Mutter al-Jabouri. In November, the boy was doing chores along the Tigris River when he stepped on a makeshift bomb planted by insurgents. Abdul lost his right arm and leg in the blast, but the soldiers responded to the scene quickly and managed to save his life.
Company A has continued to play a role in his recovery. They transport Abdul and his family to and from the hospital for his many appointments, helping him through each step of his grueling recovery. Now Abdul is able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg the soldiers had fitted for him.
Often, for injuries as serious as Abdul's, a medical evacuation by helicopter presents the best chance of saving a patient's life. The 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade evacuates an average of 60 Iraqi civilians every month. This figure does not include evacuations of those serving in the Iraqi security forces.
Aside from individual assistance, Task Force Marne soldiers routinely conduct large-scale medical engagements. These initiatives give local residents an opportunity to receive free care, from treating small injuries to serious ailments.
About seven coordinated medical engagements take place in the Multinational Division Center area of operations every month, reaching thousands of people in need, many of them children.
But not all humanitarian engagements focus on caring for the sick and injured. The soldiers contribute to multiple aspects of the Iraqi school system. Their efforts have helped facilitate an environment in which children can learn and thrive.
Since their deployment, Task Force Marne soldiers have helped renovate 87 Iraqi schools, at a cost of nearly $20 million.
In one such project, soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, coordinated refurbishment of two schools in Mahmudiyah. The Iraqi Education Ministry and the town's mayor identified the Uthman school and the Omah al-Mukhtar girls school as most in need for improvements.
The Commander's Emergency Response Program funded the renovations, which included fresh paint, new classrooms, desks, windows and exterior walls. Changes like these help eliminate overcrowding and unsanitary conditions that make learning difficult.
The soldiers also have addressed the problem of Iraqi students lacking resources such as school supplies, textbooks and areas for recreational activities. To date, $2.25 million has been spent on parks, school supplies and youth centers.
In one case, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team delivered backpacks filled with supplies and notebooks to the Raqhaa and the Abu Shear schools. The 1,600 students attending the two schools now have the materials they need to pursue their education.
In an effort to modernize Iraq's education system, the 214th Fires Brigade worked with the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team to equip the Al-Kut girls secondary school with an Internet center.
The girls have taken advantage of the new furniture and 10 machines to learn computing skills, do research, work on projects and complete exams they would otherwise need to travel to Baghdad to take.
Growing up in a war zone, many young Iraqis miss out on basic pleasures often taken for granted, such as playing sports or receiving a new toy. Certain humanitarian projects aim simply to bring joy into the lives of Iraqi children.
In Khidr, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division's Company B, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, bought soccer balls and goals for the town. Local residents worked with the soldiers to clear a field and set up the goals. Now the children of Khidr have a safe venue to take part in their favorite pastime.
Various other Task Force Marne initiatives organized classes and provided uniforms and equipment to young Iraqi athletes. For example, 101st Airborne Division soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, recently ran a three-day basketball camp for children in Radwaniyah.
Projects and initiatives like these help to build ties of friendship and understanding among the country's future generations, U.S. officials said.
(Gregory Dubin works in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)