American Forces Press Service
March 2, 2009 - U.S. soldiers are making a difference in the lives of Iraqis, as evidenced recently by the opening of a senior center and orphanage, a new school and school renovations, and a refurbished joint security station. "We are making a difference -- you can see it in the smiles of the local residents who are diligently working every day to provide a brighter future for their children and grandchildren," said Army Lt. Col. Dwight Davies, officer in charge of the Diwaniyah-Najaf Resident Office for Gulf Region Division South. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partners are building strong today to help Iraq move forward for tomorrow."
The new senior center and orphanage in the north and a new girl's school in the south are the latest of more than 4,400 projects, valued at $7 billion, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed in Iraq. More than a quarter of those are schools, officials said.
Representatives of the USACE Gulf Region Division North district, the northern Iraq regional government and contract partners gathered in the 4,300-year-old city of Irbil on Feb. 12 to celebrate the completion of the Irbil Orphanage and Senior Center. The new building provides a home for some of the city's most vulnerable residents and stands on the site of an old, substandard orphanage built in 1967.
The new $3.7 million facility nearly doubles the capacity of the old orphanage, and can accommodate 250 boys and 250 girls in separate dormitories. About 100 destitute senior citizens, who have no alternative means of support, also will live at the new center. Assisted living is a new concept for the region, and planners consider it a logical combination to have homeless children share the facility with senior citizens.
"In the United States, we're starting to see day care centers on assisted living properties because seniors and kids get along well together," according to Gary York, the area engineer for the Gulf Region North district's Irbil office.
The new facility also has a unique look and modern functional design. At the heart is the multipurpose room, surrounded by six three-story resident halls. The buildings were designed so that the small children's playground is located in front of the seniors' home. Other conveniences for the senior center include a hydraulic elevator, extra-wide doors, kitchenettes in each apartment and handicap-accessible tubs and showers.
Amenities on the orphanage site include a playground, swimming pool, soccer field, guard house, administration building, garden lot, exterior water tanks and parking lot.
"Many responsible individuals and companies from the local area have made generous donations for equipment and furnishing. There is no greater service to your country and community than helping the underprivileged," York said.
In Diwaniyah province, south of Baghdad, USACE's Gulf Region Division South district celebrated the Feb. 26 opening of the Al Irshad Secondary School for Girls, a $1.2 million facility. The 12-classroom, multilevel school includes a laboratory, library, storage rooms and administrative buildings for 360 students. Iraqi contractor Al-Kahlaa Co. began the project in December 2007 and employed 50 local men during construction.
"In Iraq, in the United States, in every society that I know of, education is among the things people value most for their children. And so, we come here today to celebrate the opening of a new school," Michael Klecheski, Diwaniyah Provincial Reconstruction Team leader, said. "We celebrate a school with classrooms and hallways in which young women will be able to develop into productive members of the new Iraq that is growing around us all.
"Construction of this new school was itself a reflection of that new Iraq," Klecheski continued. "It took courage and determination to bring it to completion, especially on the part of those Iraqis who did the work, oversaw it, and brought us to this day. May this school always stand as a symbol of partnership between our countries."
Also in Diwaniyah province, soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division's 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Comanche Company, have completed renovating a joint security station they share with Iraqi soldiers and police.
"This place needed a lot of help to be up to U.S. and Iraqi standards," said Army Staff Sgt. Josiah Cecil, Comanche Company headquarters platoon sergeant and intelligence noncommissioned officer in charge. "There were feral cats running around and garbage lying everywhere."
Army 1st Sgt. Dwayne Uhlig of Comanche Company said his soldiers took out 30 truckloads of trash and debris when they arrived in September.
A quick survey of the roof found that it needed immediate improvements. Working quickly, Uhlig and his soldiers drew up a plan for weapons and bunker braces and began bunker fortifications, filling about 17,000 sandbags, weighing close to 200 metric tons, within two months of arrival.
"I'm really proud of what my soldiers have done in a short amount of time," the first sergeant said. "I gave them basic guidance and they ran with it, doing it right the first time. We take great pride in what they've done here."
In Kirkuk, soldiers with the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team oversaw the Feb. 15 completion of three new classrooms at Hegna Primary School to better accommodate younger students.
"This is a great opportunity for the children of Hegna to have greater access to a learning environment and will allow teachers to be able to focus more closely on the children by reducing the classroom sizes," said Army Capt. Justin Michel, commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.
The Iraqi government is determined to create better lives for its citizens by continuing to add on to this school and schools like it around the country, Michel said.
"Opening more classrooms creates opportunities for local teachers to use their skills to benefit the village's children," Michel said. "The continuing improvements to the infrastructure of Iraq are beginning to be more and more apparent in towns like Hegna."
(USACE writers Mike Scheck of Gulf Region Division North district and Alicia Embrey of Gulf Region Division South district contributed to this report, as well as Army Spc. Josh LeCappelain with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)