By Army 2nd Lt. Gordon Bostick
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 6, 2008 - Iraqi children in Baghdad's Sadr City district are preparing to start the school year in safer, refurbished facilities, thanks to the work of U.S. soldiers here. Before Company A, Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, arrived in Sadr City's Jamilla neighborhood, the schools here were not even used for classes; militants were using the grounds as makeshift hiding places and torture cells. At the few schools that remained open, militants kidnapped children as they went to or from school and held them for ransom.
"The schools in Jamilla were places of terror, not places of learning," said Army 2nd Lt. Nicholas Boykin of the 1st Armored Division's Company A, Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is currently attached to the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, in Multinational Division Baghdad.
Before repairs could begin, the neighborhood needed to be secure. As Task Force 1-6 arrived in Jamilla, soldiers immediately improved the security and began chasing the criminals and militants out. The wall built by the task force isolated Jamilla from the rest of Sadr City, scaring many of the militants out of the area and allowing the economy and civil society to flourish.
As soldiers prepared projects to rebuild and refurbish the schools in the area, they saw just how bad things were at the 12 schools -- ranging from kindergarten and elementary schools to all-female schools and high schools -- in Jamilla.
While some of these schools were in fairly good condition, others were heavily damaged. Almost all of them had no electrical power and no air conditioning. Desks were broken, walls were crumbling and bullet holes could be found punched through the windows and rooftops.
For the repairs to begin, Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers conducted a variety of escort missions to bring personnel from the civil affairs team, Task Force Gold, and from the Iraqi Education Ministry to scout out conditions on the ground.
After a complete assessment, Task Force 1-6 initiated projects to completely overhaul the structures. Government-hired Iraqis went to work and replaced wire and electrical facilities, installed air-conditioning units, desks, dry-erase boards and new playground equipment, and repainted the inside and outside of the schools.
"The rebuilding and transformation of the schools was like night and day," Army Sgt. Mario Braxton, Company A, Task Force 1-6, said. "It really showed the neighborhood who was on their side, trying to make Jamilla a better place."
(Army 2nd Lt. Gordon Bostick serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.)