by Sgt. David Turner
American Forces Press Service
FOB KALSU (June 18, 2008) — For school children in the southern Baghdad area, getting an education has become a difficult and even dangerous prospect in recent years. In some cases, supplies were short and facilities were in disrepair. Sometimes the teachers weren’t there. In a few cases, the schools themselves were all but gone. The area where the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team arrived in June 2007 had long been an insurgent stronghold, with many villages controlled by al-Qaida terrorists who kept children, especially girls, from attending school. With no coalition or Iraqi security forces presence, local schools suffered the same fate as many farms and businesses in the area. They were looted and damaged, and even became battlegrounds.
“About two years ago, the Ministry of Education ordered all of the teachers out of the rural areas because the security situation was so bad,” said Army Capt. Trista Mustaine, education advisor to the Baghdad 7 embedded provincial reconstruction team, which works with 2nd BCT soldiers to rebuild the local infrastructure and economy. The area is now more secure than it has been in years, with Iraqi soldiers and police establishing a presence and preparing to hold gains made by 2nd BCT, which is scheduled to redeploy in July.
In addition to repairing critical infrastructure and breathing new life into the damaged economy, the 2nd BCT and Baghdad 7 embedded PRT have spent millions to keep schools open and make it possible for children to pursue an education. With the school year now over for children in the area, it’s a chance for workers to complete renovations and building projects throughout the 2nd BCT’s area of operation. Although reconstruction costs largely have been provided by coalition forces up to now, the Iraqi government is taking up the task and helping get local schools repaired and reopened before the next school year begins.
As he and his soldiers near redeployment in July, Army Capt. Richard Aaron, commander of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery, feels good about the work they have done. “We’ve made a huge impact on the community with the school, and with other projects we’ve done,” he said.
Now that the area is safe again and schools are getting the attention they need, the Iraqi government is ready to re-invest in a more significant way.”As of about a month ago, the Ministry of Education has ordered the teachers to return to their rural schools,” Mustaine said. Thanks to gains made by 2nd Brigade Combat Team, she said, government officials can work freely in the area to make sure their schools have what they need to teach the children. “Our goal is to provide accessible education for everyone. We have started the ball rolling, and the [Iraqi government] will keep it going in the future,” she said.
Children at Menahay Primary School in southern Baghdad pose for a photo. When al-Qaida operatives destroyed their school, students took classes in a nearby five-room private home until their school could be rebuilt. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Luis Delgadillo).