By army Pfc. Christopher McKenna
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 29, 2008 - A program designed to help "Sons of Iraq" citizen security group members learn skills that will enable them to help Iraq move forward graduated its final class of 60 students here Sept. 25. "The Village of Hope was part of a civil service corps program that took Sons of Iraq members from checkpoints and taught them useable trades that they can make a living with," said Air Force Capt. Michael Askegren, 557th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron's officer in charge for the program. RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers.
As Iraq's security forces continue to grow and mature, some Sons of Iraq members will be able to serve with the army or police. But for the majority who won't, "the Village of Hope gives them an option to make a good living in legitimate ways," Askegren said.
The first of four Village of Hope classes graduated in May. Askegren said he noted progress from each class to the next.
"When it started off, we had to build trust within the community and get them to believe that we are here to help and teach them something they can use," he said. "Each class has steadily gotten better, and it all culminated with the graduation of the final class."
The day also saw the official reopening of the Almainn School for Boys, which was remodeled through construction efforts of both contractors and Village of Hope graduates.
"Iraqi service workers did all of the work on the school," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael McKeen, the RED HORSE squadron's structure lead noncommissioned officer. "After their training, we put them straight to work. In the beginning, we had to do a lot of hands-on training with them, but after we got their first group of supervisors through their course, they kind of filled in our role."
The sharpest individuals from each class were placed into a supervisors' course, where they learned supervisory skills and responsibilities.
"Having actual supervisors out on the construction sites allowed [the coalition] to take a step back and let Iraqis train Iraqis," McKeen said.
Since the inception of the Village of Hope, four classes that yielded a total of 210 graduates trained in construction, plumbing and electrical wiring. The supervisors learned to coordinate necessities and maintain equipment for the various trades.
Although no additional classes will be offered at the Village of Hope, Askergren said good things lie ahead for Hawr Rajab.
"Though the training is complete, there are still renovations left to be done in the community," he said. "We've officially planted the seed to a new future. Now, it's time for us to step back and watch it grow."
(army Pfc. Christopher McKenna serves with the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)