Seeds For Soldiers

May 19, 2008

I was really impressed when I read about this project. What started out as a Soldier’s sister-in-law collecting a few seeds to teach the Iraqi kids how to grow their own gardens and help to supplant their family’s food supply, grew into quite a large project. Michelle Nielson of Yankton, South Dakota had no clue when she started the project, that she would get the kind of response from the public that she did.

The idea started when Michelle got a call from her sister, whose husband Major John Blankenhorn is serving in Iraq. He was looking for some seeds that he could use to work with the Iraqi children. Michelle’s sister called her and the project blossomed from there. Michelle, who works at WNAX in Yankton talked to her 4H kids and asked if they might consider doing a drive to collect garden seeds and other things for the Iraqi kids. Michelle also asked her boxx if she could publicize the effort on WNAX. Her boss thought it was a great idea.

Nielson and her 4Hers put together donation boxes and posters around the town. According to Michelle, donations have come in from schools, churches, businesses and senior citizen centers as well as individuals in the community. She’s also received seeds from other states. The project began in January and so far Michelle has sent more than a dozen boxes of seeds to Iraq. She has several more waiting to be shipped.

“I’ve probably sent over about 5,000 packs of seeds so far,” she said.

Not only will the gardens help the Iraqi children to add to their family’s food supply, it also gives them the chance to see US Soldiers in a completely different light. Projects such as this, as minor as they might sound to us here at home, mean a great deal to the Iraqis. It also gives the children the opportunity to experience something positive in their lives, something that is helpful to their families and communities as well. According to Nielson, the Soldiers are taking the seeds to the schools to distribute them to the children, who are excited to get them.

There are guidelines on what seeds a person can send. The seed packets must not have been opened, or recycled from plants in the donor’s own garden. Those types of seeds aren’t allowed by Customs, who would then quarentine the entire box. Nielson has a few other guidelines as well. The seeds sent should be for plants that have short growing periods and should be seeds that will grow well in sandy soils that get a small amount of moisture.

“John tells me that they recycle water,” Nielson said. “They use their bath water, they use their dishwater. That’s what they use to water their plants with.”

Some of the best seeds that can be sent, are seeds for radishes, tomatoes, turnips, cucumbers, small melons and even some flowers. According to Nielson, she has no plans to stop the project, as long as she keeps gettings seeds.

“I’m not going to stop unless I don’t get seeds in,” she said. “As long as I keep getting seeds, I’ll keep sending them over and he’ll keep sending them out. His wish is that he’ll have enough seeds to go through most of Iraq.”

This is a great project and one that will only benefit the Iraqi people and help to build better relationships between the citizens and our Troops. If you’d like to find out more about the project, including where you can send seeds, please visit the WNAX website. You’ll find the information about Seeds For Soldiers about halfway down the page. There are links as well, to photos of the Troops handing out the seeds to the schoolchildren.

Army Times


Laughter Means Progress

May 9, 2008

In the US, we’re used to being able to go attend various events, such as concerts, Broadway plays and comedy shows and we really don’t ever give it a second thought. As long as we have the money to afford the tickets, we’re free to attend any of these events and rarely worry about anything, except having a good time and enjoying ourselves. It’s not been that way in Iraq or Afghanistan for many years, but because of increased security, that’s slowly changing.

In the Iraqi province of Wasit, on May 4th, citizens were treated to the first comedic play since 2003. The actors from the popular Iraqi sitcom “Mud House” performed the play entitled “People to People” which portrayed Iraqi life from a comedic standpoint. The play was meant to not only entertain the audience, but to give the hope and optimim about the future.

Approximately 1,500 people filled the Municipality Hall located in Kut to watch the play. The play was sponsored by the US State Department in conjunction with the US Army’s 214th Fires Brigade and the Iraqi police. Officials estimated that another 3,000 people were waiting outside the theater.

“The large turnout was a positive indicator of Wasit’s desire for a return to normalcy,” said Vanessa Beary, public diplomacy officer for the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team.

According to Col. Peter Baker of the 214th Fires Brigade, the local citizens really enjoyed the show. “It was impossible not to be caught up with the audience’s laughtr,” he said. “It was a very light and joyful mood.”

As is occurring, more and more often in Iraq, Iraqi security forces handled security for the event. This highlighted the big step they’ve taken forward in ensuring the security and safety of the citizens. The large turnout showed the the community trusted the security forces to ensure heir safety. According to Baker, the Iraqi security forces remained alert and conscious of the opportunity for problems to arise, due to the vast number of people gathering for the event. Due to the large turnout on May 4th, the actors chose to perform an encore performance on May 5th.

This is yet another indication of the great strides that are taking place, whether the media wishes to acknowledge it or not. While we realize that a lot of work still needs to be done, to ensure the security and safety of the country of Iraq and it’s citizens, each event such as this, is another step in the right direction.


Returning Home

May 5, 2008

We’ve often heard from protesters that our Troops are not accomplishing much in Iraq and that the Iraqi people are worse off than they were, before our Troops toppled Saddam’s reign of horror. We’ve made sure to show the things that our Troops are accomplishing in Iraq, to show a side that the media, for the most part, has completely ignored. The rebuilding of communities, the increased safety for residences and the provision of medical services for the people, who may not have had those things in the past.

Recently, in the village of Chalabi, residents of this village, which is located about 25 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, are returning to reclaim their homes, after being forced to abandon their homes by al-Qaeda and Iraq extremists, over a year ago. The 120 villagers were excorted by Sons of Iraq leader Jumah al-Kazarji and Soldiers from the 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. A large convoy of cars and trucks ushered the villages back to their abandoned village. Reclaiming their homes signaled what they hope is the beginning of a new era in their village … one of peace and security.

The village used to contain a population of over 2000 people. The village consisted of a Shia tribe in a Sunni-dominated area. Because of this, the Chalabis of the Sayafiyah region were prime targets for al-Qaeda and other Sunni insurgents. They were driven from their homes about 18 months ago. When that occurred, the villagers were forced to leave behind their farms, animals, equipment, seeds and fertilizer that they had stored for the upcoming planting seasons. The village became a virtual ghost town. Empty homes fell into a state of disrepair, irrigation ditches dried up, as they fled from the violence wreaked upon them by the insurgents.

The region has become more peaceful and stable and the Chalabis are finally able to make the first steps towards returning to their village and rebuilding their lives. Those that have already returned are ready to repair homes and farms. In the coming weeks, they’ll begin to bring their families back home, as well.

While returning to their village is a huge first step, much needs to be accomplished before their lives can return to their normal existence. Essential services, such as water and power must be restored, as well as the repairs to the buildings and property. This first step is the first time in many years that the villagers felt that there was hope of rebuilding their lives in a stable environment. Hope that was brought to them, because of the work of US forces and their Iraqi counterparts.


New Bank Opens in Baghdad

April 27, 2008

Here in the United States, it’s commonplace to see a bank on almost every street in the business districts. That hasn’t been the case in Baghdad, where, until recently it would have been too dangerous to do so. A bank would have just been an invitation to the insurgents to cause trouble and manipulate the populace.

On April 20th, in the Doura district of Baghdad, excited residents, along with Iraqi security forces and Multinational Division Baghdad Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment attached to the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, gathered around a doorway that had been secured by a strand of ribbon. Residents were seeing tangible proof that economic resurgence in the area of the city they live in, was in fact true. Suddenly, the ribbon was snipped and the crowed of citizens began filing inside to utilize the services of the new bank.

“Today is a historic day for us,” said Zuhair al-Jumaily, the banks’ manager. “We are pleased to reopen this branch and provide services to the residents of Doura.”

As the eager citizens filed into the bank, tellers were already in place and ready to begin their days work. Though this marked a definitive step in the revitalization of the area, no one was taking any chances and tight security was present.

“In the past, Doura’s situation was very bad,” Jumaily said. “Today the area is safe and secure. The bank will serve a large number of residents, and we are very pleased with the efforts of the coalition forces.”

According to Army Captain Daryl Carter, commander of 10th Mountain Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, as little as 8 months ago, the area had a deserted and desolate feel. Residents avoided coming outside unless absolutely necessary, due to insurgent activity. Now businesses have opened in the market section and are thriving. The area is now teeming with people.

The opening of the bank is a result of the hard work of Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces working side by side. The cooperation of the citizens of the area is another reason that things such as the opening of businesses and the bank are now taking place.

“It was a pretty monumental event,” said Army 1st Lt. Justin Chabalko, a mortar platoon leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. “Since security has been good, there has been a lot of progress in the area.” The bank’s re-opening shows there is stability in the region and also that the government can provide for its people.”

This is great news for the people of the neighborhood, as well as for our Troops. It’s yet another piece of evidence showing that the job our Troops are doing is having the desired effect; making things safer and more secure for the Iraqi people.


Bringing Soldiers And Iraqi Families Together Through Art

April 10, 2008

As ugly as war can be, some Soldiers currently at FOB War Eagle have decided to reach out to a group of Iraqi children, as a way to bridge the gap between Troops and the Iraqi families in the community. On March 29th, the Soldiers invited the children to showcase their artistic talents and creativity by allowing them to paint the concrete walls that are used to protect citizens in their neighborhood.

The children all live in a nearby village and walk by the concrete T-walls every day on their way to school. The children tend to walk along that route, as they know it’s the safest route for them to take to and from school. While one focus of the project was to provide another way to establish rapport with the local community, it also provided the children the opportunity to take part in beautifying something that they see on a daily basis.

The children had a great time painting things of their choice, such as Iraqi and American flags, palm trees, flowers, hearts and other designs. The day also allowed the Soldiers and children to interact with each other in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. The day of fun, was organized by Captain Megan Welch, logistics officer with the brigade, and her fellow Soldiers.

“The kids who participated had a good time, and for us, it was a good opportunity to interact with the neighborhood kids,” said Army Captain Walter Zurkowsky, executive officer for HHT, 64th Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

“We had a lot of fun with the kids. It was a good, cooperative community-building event, and we look forward to seeing many of these in the future,” Capt. Welch said.

What a fantastic way to help the children not only take part in making their community a better place to live, but it also allows the children to learn about the men and women who are behind the uniform of the US Soldier. From the looks of the smiles on the faces of the children, it’s obvious that it was a day they truly enjoyed.


Sight To The Blind

April 2, 2008

Five year old Noor Taha Najee is blind. Not as a result of the war in Iraq, but instead because of congenital condition that causes poorly-developed corneas, she’s been that way since birth. She’s not the only one in her family with this congenital condition. Her brother Mustafa also suffers from the birth defect, one that prevents their eyes from registering anything other than light sensitivity.

Even though the condition is a genetic one, it is one that can be fixed with surgery. Thanks to the help of Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Reiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Ifantry Division, Noor is getting closer to finally being able to see. Once she has her surgery, she won’t have to run her hands across a persons face and explore their features and try to guess what that person looks like. She won’t have to ask her father if the person is fat or skinny, short or tall. She’ll be able to see for herself. 1st Lt Michael Kendrick, platoon leader of 2nd Platoon and his Soldiers have been working closely wotj doctors, to make the surgery a reality.

“To have her see her family, her brothers, to put a face to the voice, it would be a blessing,” said her father Taha, of the opportunity to help give sight to his daughter and her brother.

The Soldiers have been working closely with The Eye Defects Research Foundation, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that is based in Los Angeles, that was founded in 1994 with the intention of conducting research and providing financial support for a group of neglected children with rare eye defects leading to pediatric blindness. They are working to schedule the surgery for Noor. On March 14th, Noor and her uncle were taken to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, in order for an evaluation to be conducted. The evaluation showed that Noor has a higher potential for success, than her brother does.

“We’re on standby now, waiting for a doctor in L.A.,” said Kendrick.

Kendrick and his Troops are also in the process of finding a local Iraqi doctor who would be willing to travel with Noor to the United States for her surgery. That way the doctor will be able to be shown how to provide the necessary follow-up care for Noor.

According to Noor’s father, the gift of being able to finally see, is one that is appropriate for a girl like Noor. He describes her as a very generous, caring and giving girl. That personality trait is one of the things that has so endeared her to the Soldiers of the 2nd Platoon.

“We’ve taken a real vested interest in the people here,” Kendrick said, adding that his Soldiers spend a lot of time on the ground, interacting with the residents. “We empathize with the people. It pays dividends winning the hearts and minds. It keeps things quiet.”

Noor has grown fond of the Soldiers as well. Especially with 1Lt Kendrick, according to her father. She loves to spend time with him and asks her father many questions about him.

“She likes to sit by him, and is always asking me about him and loves it when I tell her stories about him,” Taha. “She’s only like that with Kendrick.”

While she can’t see them, Noor instinctively knows what the Soldiers of the platoon are doing for her and others in her community. She knows the goodness of their heart, something that can’t be seen with the eyes, but instead felt with the heart. Her father sums it up the best.

“Love begins in the mind, not the eyes,” Taha says.

This, my friends shows what our Troops are about, what they’re made of, the type of people that they are. Not what Hollywood, the media and the anti-Troop people would like to have you believe. Stories like this, make me so proud of our Troops and the things they accomplish daily, without a thought to gaining publicity or accolades. Instead, they do it because they care….

If you’d like to find out more about the work of The Eye Defects Research Foundation and what they’re doing to help children, not only in the US, but around the world, please visit their website.


Bad Voodoo’s War

March 30, 2008

They’re a group of National Guard Infantrymen from California and many of them are well-known milbloggers. In June of 2007, these men, who call themselves the “Bad Voodoo Platoon” deployed to Iraq. Their mission was to provide convoy security - a mission quite different from what they done in the past - taking the fight to the bad guys. Prio to their departure for Iraq, the director for FRONTLINE and ITVS, Deborah Scranton decided to create a “virtual embed” with the members of Bad Voodoo Platoon, by supplying them with video cameras, so that they were able to record what they experienced in Iraq and tell their story first-hand. On April 1st, FRONTLINE will air the results of this “virtual embed” when they air Bad Voodoo’s War.

Many of our readers are very familiar with some of the members of Bad Voodoo Platoon. It’s members include Sgt. J.P. Borda of, SFC Toby Nunn and as well as other members of the Bad Voodoo Platoon, who are consumate milbloggers. For those familiar with J.P. from several years ago, he operated a Milblog during his last deployment in Afghanistan called the National Guard Experience. Many of us took part in the Beef Jerky Wars that got started after J.P. made his infamous post outlining the Golden Rules of Care Packages.

This film is sure to be an intimate and frank look at the reality of what our Troops encounter each day in Iraq, as they dodge IEDs and snipers, deal with the Rules of Engagement, encounter the political side of their jobs when dealing with Iraqi security forces; all the while, operating on less sleep than those of us at home and dealing with their own humanity, as they face their fears. I’m looking forward to the film and encourage all of our readers to watch it as well.

FRONTLINE presents
Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS

“Here we are. It’s about 2:30 in the morning on the 2nd of October. We have been on the road for a while. … Wasn’t too excited to get this change of mission. The stretch of road between Anaconda and Speicher, known as IED Alley, it’s probably one of the worst stretches of road in theater.”
-Sfc. Toby Nunn, during his second Iraq deployment, to his personal mini-DV camera

FRONTLINE goes to war in Iraq with a band of California-based National Guard soldiers who call themselves the “Bad Voodoo Platoon” to tell their very personal story in Bad Voodoo’s War, airing Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 9 P.M. ET (check local listings). To record their war, from private reflections to real-time footage of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on the ground, director Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) creates a “virtual embed,” supplying cameras to the soldiers of the Bad Voodoo Platoon and working with them to shape an intimate portrait that reveals the hard grind of their war. Says Scranton: “What compels me is telling a story from the inside out, to crawl inside their world with them to see what it looks like, feels like and smells like. It’s really important to give soldiers the chance to press their own record button on this war.”

Through their daily experiences, acting platoon leader Sgt. 1st Class Toby Nunn, originally from British Columbia and the father of three, and Spc. Jason Shaw, a 23-year-old from Texas, give us a firsthand look at the impact of the U.S. military’s policy of multiple deployments to Iraq and how the Army’s role has changed on the ground.

Spc. Shaw is on his third deployment to Iraq. After the invasion in 2003, he was awarded the Silver Star for valor during the battle for the Baghdad airport. Shaw volunteered for his third tour in Iraq, but is haunted by the loss of so many comrades during his earlier deployments. “I’ve had six of my good friends die,” he explains. “When I lost all of my buddies, I just kind of lost hope. I used to be religious. My last deployment totally made me think otherwise. You know, you pray all the time to keep everybody safe, and then something happens.”

Sfc. Nunn, responsible for the safety of the 30 men in his platoon, worries endlessly about their welfare. “I’m worried about my guys,” he confides to the camera one night. “Right now I’m out here talking to you while they’re inside sleeping because I can’t sleep. Can’t rest, you know.”

Many of his men, highly trained veteran combat infantrymen, are deeply frustrated by their primary mission: providing security for convoys transporting supplies throughout Iraq to fuel President Bush’s surge. “A lot of our guys don’t like this mission,” says Nunn. “We’re used to kicking in doors, taking the fight to the enemy. Now you’re driving on the road for hours and hours and hours and days, waiting to get blown up and not allowed to fight back.”

The platoon is also struggling with a new relationship with the Iraqi security forces, whom the Americans depend on for their own safety. Nunn reflects: “I told myself last time I wanted to train the Iraqis the best I possibly could, because it was my ticket home. … But here I am, three years later, saying, ‘Will the Iraqi security forces enforce anything out there?’ Every time I talk to these guys, you know, my trust meter isn’t reading in the green all the time.” This constant second-guessing, combined with the relentless monotony of the desert highway, the fear of deadly IEDs and the memories of lost friends, keep the soldiers in an unending state of anxiety. This is Bad Voodoo’s war.

Bad Voodoo’s War is a Clover & A Bee Films production for FRONTLINE and Independent Television Service (ITVS). The writer, producer and director is Deborah Scranton. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation. The executive producer for ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer. The FRONTLINE executive producer for special projects is Michael Sullivan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.

Please visit the FRONTLINE: Bad Voodoo’s War site, to view additional footage, as well as check for the time that it will be playing in your area.

Texas Radio Hosts Wrap Up “Iraq Deployment”

March 26, 2008

They’re the hosts of the Morning Show on Waco 100, a popular country music radio station in Waco, which is near Fort Hood. Because Troops with 4th Infantry Division and 3rd ACR can no longer listen to the radio station from where they’re deployed, the hosts of the Morning Show, Zack Owen and Jim Cody decided to “deploy” to Iraq and broadcast their program live from the media operations center at Camp Liberty from March 10th through March 21st.

Neither Cody or Owen have ever served in the military, but they wanted to do something to show their support and patriotism. They felt that by taking their radio show to Camp Liberty, they were able to serve their country and allow their fans, deployed from Fort Hood, the opportunity to hear their show once again.

“We’ve talked for years about wanting to come over here,” Cody said. “We knew by virtue of our job, broadcasting, we could come over and be a venue for Soldiers to get in a little piece of home. We said on the air a few times that if anyone knew how to get the ball rolling, we’d appreciate their help.”

Those comments on air apparently helped. Towards the end of November, Zack and Jim were attending a fundraiser in central Texas and were introduced to Delena Kanouse, who is the chief of community relations for III Corps. III Corps is the headquarters unit in charge at Fort Hood. With Kanouse’s help, they were able to begin the process and eventually “deploy.” They had three months to prepare for their trip. Kanouse assisted them in completing the required paperwork and got them scheduled to deploy with Troops from 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team.

“We wanted to get the whole feel of the thing,” Owen said, “so we went through the whole (soldier readiness program) process and everything.”

Zack and Jim were more than happy to don ACU’s and obtain the standard pre-deployment shots. They boarded the same flight as the Soldiers from 1st BCT. Most generally, when members of the media visit deployed Troops, they stick to civilian attire and fly on commercial flights. Zack and Jim received the same warm send-off that the Troops get, as they boarded the flight which departed from Robert Gray Army Airfield at Fort Hood. According to Owen, they were treated as if they were a part of the 4th Infantry Division family. Army Major David Olsen, 1st BCT public affairs officer, kept them under his wing. in Kuwait and once they arrived in Iraq.

“Olson said there wasn’t much going on in Kuwait, but to two guys who have never done this before, it seemed a little scary to have guys with guns all around you on the bus you’re riding,” joked Owen.

“Honestly, I have full faith and confidence in the ability of these military men and women to keep me safe from harm,” added Cody. “I expected to see more of the bombed-out rubble, but you can really see the progress of the past five years. A lot has been rebuilt,” Cody said. “People are out shopping, kids are playing. It seems like business as usual out in the streets.”

Though both Zack and Jim enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience, they remained focused on their primary mission … telling the stories of the Soldiers there. During their time at Camp Liberty, they interviewed almost 200 servicemembers within Multinational Division Baghdad. Each one of those Soldiers had a story to tell and they were able to send their love, over the airwaves to their loved ones back home in Central Texas.

“I think there are lots of ways people can demonstrate their commitment to supporting what our Soldiers are doing,” said Army Brig. General Mike Milano, deputy commanding general in charge of support for the 4th Infantry Division, “but there is no more sincere way anyone else can do it than what these two gentlemen are doing.”

“They are communicating for us the hardships our Soldiers face daily - and what better way to do that than to come see for themselves?” Army Command Sgt. Major John Gioia said. “You can tell they truly care for, and support, our Soldiers, and what more can you truly ask for? I truly appreciate the smiles they have brought to the faces of our Soldiers and their families.”

By sometime this week, I’m sure that Zack and Jim will be back on the Morning Show broadcasting from Waco once again. I’m sure the trip to Camp Liberty was a memorable one, not only for them, but for the Soldiers whose lives they touched while they were “deployed.” It’s just too bad that others in the media, don’t follow the example set by Zack and Jim from Waco 100. Great Job, Zack and Jim!


Waco 100 Iraq Trip Summary

Village Of Hope

March 11, 2008

After many months of being oppressed by al-Qaeda, many places around Iraq are beginning to come to life. The markets are reopened, citizens fill the streets without fearing for their lives and many people are returnng to work and school. In one community in southern Baghdad, that has never been so evident. The community of Hawr Rajab is returning to normalcy after months of being terrorized by al-Qaeda operatives.

Because security in Hawr Rajab has improved so much, Troops and the Iraqis themselves are beginning to focus their attention on rebuilding the economy. One such rebuilding project, the “Village of Hope,” is a vocational school that is designed to teach the students attending there, the basics of construction. They recently had 50 students enroll for classes.

Troops from the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division are providing security at the construction sites where the students are attending clsses. The classes are taught by US Air Force Airmen who are in related occupational specialties. The Airmen/teachers are part of the 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron, who are headquartered at Balad Air Base. About 30 members conduct classes at the Village of Hope, from Patrol Base Stone, that is located in the heart of Hawr Rajab. As new as it is for the students, who are just now learning the basics of construction, the new task is also new for the instructors, who had to change their mindset from pounding nails to teaching others how to do it.

“As builders, we are more attuned to seeing a completed structure or physical progress at the end of the work day,” said Tech. Sgt Jacob Wilcock. “Teaching is very rewarding but the reward is seeing the students understand the lesson and do well on a practical exercise.”

The program, which will be taught f the course of three months to the students, will teach them not only the basics of building, but during that time, they’ll also be working to rebuild homes that were damaged or destroyed by extremists. Rebuilding homes is one part of their lesson plan. As an added incentive, students are paid for the work they do while attending classes.

“The students are very receptive, ecstatic and happy about the school,” said Capt. Josh Aldred, the Village of Hope project manager. “They are very grateful and fully understand that we’re here to help.”

Local businesses also benefit from the Village of Hope school. As projects are started, once classroom time is completed, materials that are needed for a building project, that are available locally, will be purchased from the local vendors. To further ensure that they have a steady supply of building materials, the Provincial Reconstruction Team awarded a micro-grant to a local brick and concrete block maker in order to aid him in improving his business. Advice was also given to the brick maker and his employees on how to make his products more efficiently.

“He’s been making blocks for long time and does good work,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Knapp, the Army/Air Force Liason. “We just showed him how to improve the products he puts out.”

The coalition Troops who are working on the project can see the great benefits of the work they’re doing. They’re able to see physical and tangible progrss, improvement and change and have the knowledge that they’re helping the citizens of Hawr Rajab change their lives for the better, by helping them to learn marketable employment skills. This project is yet another thing that our Troops are doing to help improve the lives of the Iraqi people that they come into contact with and yet more evidence of the great work our Troops are doing every day.


Iraqi Girl Returns Home Following Heart Surgery In U.S.

March 10, 2008

We’ve often told our readers about the people of Iraq that our Troops are going out of their way to help. Many of them children, who, if it weren’t for our Troops, might not receive the medical care that they need to lead normal healthy lives. On March 7th, a 2 year old Iraqi girl returned home to Haditha after undergoing open-heart surgery at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University. Her father and several other family members traveled from their home to Baghdad International Airport to meet Amenah. She had left Iraq on Januar 22nd with her mother in order for her to receive the life-saving surgery.

“I am very happy. I was very worried that my daughter would not come home alive,” said Ala Thabit Fattah, the girl’s father. “I am very grateful for the great treatment the American people gave to my family.”

Marines from 3d Battalion, 23rd Marines, who are assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 5, discovered Amenah, when they conducted a routine patrol through Haditha. They noticed that her extremities had a bluish hue to them, whenever she exerted herself. The battalion surgeon, Capt. John Nadeau, assessed her and immediately recognized the gravity of her condition. He then coordinated with the medical staff at Vanderbilt to perform the surgical proceedure to remedy her heart defect. Major Kevin Jarrad oversaw the entire operation to coordinate the international effort to transport Amenah to the U.S. and his wife Kelly raised the funds necessary to finance the round-trip flight for Amehah and her mother.

“Thank you is just too small of a word to express how I feel,” said Amenah’s mother, Maha Muhammed Bandar.

When Amenah arrived at Vanderbilt, she was immediately examine by doctors who discovere that her heart was turned backwards. She was scheduled for surgery on February 11th. Her surgery was a success and she spent the remainder of her time in the United States recovering from her surgery. Due to the gains made in Haditha, Troops there were able to concentrate on humanitarian missions and thus allowed the Marines to get Amenah the help she needed.

“Haditha got really bad in 2005. All of the government facilities, hospitals, Iraqi Police, were useless because insurgents controlled the town. If anyone spoke out against the insurgents, they would either threaten the person or kill them,” Capt. Samir Mifih, a local government official who attended Amenah’s homecoming said. “At the end of 2006, the Marines who used to be here helped organize the police system again and encouraged the people to return to work.”

Nowdays, just as in other parts of Iraq, Haditha is thriving and is on the verge of demilitarization by Coalition forces, due to the strides the Iraqis have taken in regards to security and municipal governance. Like the care that Amenah received, the success of Haditha is a result of a cooperative effort.

“I am very grateful for Jarrad, Nadeau and I consider all the Marines in Haditha, father to Amenah and I will do anything as a return favor for the generosity of the Marines in helping my family,” said Fattah.

As long as our Troops are able to continue their valuable work in the cities across Iraq and bring stability to the cities, they will be able to more and more turn to humanitarian efforts such as this. Many children and adults in Iraq, have already recieved medical care that they would not be able to get, if it weren’t for our Troops and their dedication to not only keeping their cities secure, but their dedication to helping the people of Iraq as well. So the next time you hear someone saying that our Troops aren’t accomplishing anything in Iraq, point them to stories such as this and show them what kinds of things our Troops are doing that they don’t see in the news.


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