School Benefits After Helping Thwart Insurgents

By Benjamin Cossel

CAMP TAJI, Iraq (CENTCOM) — Critical in the success of Iraqi Security Forces is the faith of those they defend. When the headmaster of a local school approached officers of the 307th Iraq National Guard Battalion about the whereabouts of several placed improvised explosive devices, a huge step towards establishing the legitimacy of the ING was taken.

In an effort to show gratitude and to say “thank you”, troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 39th Brigade Combat Team worked with Soldiers of the 307th bringing backpacks, shoes and toys to a local school.

“Citizens coming to the ING with information is how we are trying to make this system work. They could come to us [Multi-National Forces] with the information, but that wouldn’t help Iraqi Security Forces establish themselves within the country.” said Capt. Mark Leslie, 2-7 Cavalry, ING senior adviser.

Wary of vehicle borne IEDs, extra security was added to the convoy and before beginning the distribution Troopers made a complete search of the school and its immediate surrounding area.

“You can never be too careful on missions like these,” explained San Antonio, Texas resident Staff Sgt. Anthony Saldivar.

More than 400 children patiently and in an orderly fashion lined the walls of the school as Guardsmen and Troopers handed out the goodies pulled off the back of a loaded light medium tactical vehicle). Excited laughter filled the courtyard as kids inspected the contents of the backpacks or played with their new toys.

Leslie noted that as well as being a “thank you” the school, located in one of the many poor rural farming areas of Al-Taji, was in dire need of assistance. In addition to school supplies for the children, several kerosene heaters were given to the school to help warm the winter months.

“We really want to show these people,” said Leslie, “how much we appreciate them coming forward about the IED and then taking that information to the ING.”

Even as children’s laughter filled the darkened classrooms, several teachers were unhappy at the presence of American Soldiers.

“A couple of teachers still feel the Americans are an occupying force,” said an interrupter know as “The Professor”, who spent several hours with the teachers trying to convince them otherwise.

“I explained to them that Americans are not occupiers, they are here to help, they got rid of Saddam and we should be thankful for them. That as soon as our security forces are able to stand on their own, the Americans will leave. But many are unable to see new ways.”

Gathering up the empty boxes, Leslie took a more resigned approach to the situation.

“No matter what you do, no matter how much you help, some people are going to believe anything but the Americans. So we try and focus on the positives we can do, those we can change, such as children and perhaps their parents. Eventually, people will come around as we continue our work, making Iraq a better place for its citizens.”