U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY -- In a small elementary school for 350 students, children contended with broken furniture, stray animals and disease-carrying insects as everyday distractions to their classroom learning. But when Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) came to visit, that all changed.
Engineers from MEU Service Support Group 24 recently visited a school here to provide support to the community during Operation Image Nautilus '03. The elementary school consisted of six small buildings, each about the size of a four-car garage. In the middle was a dirt courtyard, which had been overrun by goats, and inside the classrooms the floors were made of dirt.
Before arriving on site, the detachment spent more than 160 man-hours preparing for the visit, according to Capt Erik Post, Engineer Officer, MSSG-24. Wood was measured, cut, and assembled into bookcases and components for classroom furniture. Upon arrival, the Marines set up a defensive perimeter, established communications with the USS Nassau and Camp Havana, the MEU's base camp ashore, and got to work.
The group consisted of engineers, military police, an electrician and a corpsman. Everyone pitched in to support the project, and within hours, the furniture components were assembled and retrofitted into the classrooms. Marines fixed broken doors, then outfitted the classrooms with new desks, chairs and bookcases, and built picnic tables for the outdoor courtyard and dining area. "Before, (the children) were eating food on the dirt," said Mohamed Adan, an English teacher at the local high school. "Now, they can eat here," he said with enthusiasm.
The biggest challenge to the project was getting the right materials for the job, Post said. In this area of operations, there are no lumberyards or full-service hardware stores. This was only a minor hurdle to the detachment's Marines, however, as their capabilities and work ethic overcame any material obstacles. "This is by far the best group of Marines I've ever had a chance to work with," said the Charleston, S.C. native.
Staff Sgt. Alexandros Pashos, the MSSG's top military policeman, was one of many who left the site feeling good about being part of the project. "I'm glad my Marines were able to participate...This was a chance to do something really good for these people," he said.