American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2009 - U.S. soldiers in Iraq are seeing their daily activities change from operational to humanitarian missions as the Iraqis take more control of their security. In a Jan. 23 "Operation Goodwill" endeavor, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police in Amarah distributed food, toys and medical supplies to farms and villages along the Tigris River.
"This is a sign of [changing times] for the war here in Iraq," Army Sgt. Robert Andrews of Fort Hood, Texas, said. "It's now all about the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people, he added.
"Working with the Iraqi police and going door to door with them to see families is both rewarding to me and the [police]," Army 2nd Lt. Timothy Hayes, a fire support officer, said. "That's the reason we are here, to help the citizens of Iraq."
Americans serving with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also are finding there is more to reconstructing Iraq than bricks and mortar. Those serving with the Corps' Gulf Region Division delivered toys and soccer balls Jan. 19 to students attending Dar Al-Amal, a hearing-impaired school in Basra.
The school's headmaster, Wafaa Mohammed, told the Americans, "Today is very special for them. The kids are very happy to see you. We get very few such visits, and your kind gesture means a lot to them. It tells them they are important and people really care."
"Seeing their smiles was wonderful," Elizabeth Anderson, a GRD construction representative, said. "They were very well behaved and so appreciative."
Anderson and six others from the division visited the school, where 25 teachers instruct 130 hearing-impaired students.
"When we first arrived, you could see that the students were wondering why we were there," Georgia Lewis, a GRD administrative assistant, said. "But when we brought out the toys, their eyes got so big; it was a very special moment. I am so grateful to the school for allowing us to touch their lives in such a positive way."
Mark Porterfield, a project engineer, said the visit was a highlight of his six months in Iraq. "Helping the Iraqi people is why we're here," he said. "This opportunity gave each of us a first-hand glimpse of why we're all working so hard on this historic mission."
Elsewhere, more than 120 new Emergency Response Brigade officers stood shoulder to shoulder and recited the oath of allegiance to Iraq on Jan. 22 during the selection course graduation ceremony in Baghdad.
The ERB, which operates under the authority of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, consists of a specially trained and equipped force to complete the most demanding security missions in the country, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Noman Dakhil Jawad, ERB commander, said.
"Our mission will lead Iraq to a more secure and stable country," the general said. The ERB will continue to grow in size and capability in the coming months, officials said, and the next training class is slated to begin in March.
(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq and Multinational Corps Iraq news releases.)