ING and 1/2 Marines help Iraqi children return to school

5 Oct 2004 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

Bright smiles and happy faces greeted Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit as they arrived at a local school with a seven-ton truck loaded with new desks and other supplies for the students.Soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard and Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, carried the desks and supplies to an empty classroom, where they will be passed out to the students for use in their new school year.Throughout the month of October, the battalion and other subordinate elements of the MEU will visit schools in the immediate area as part of MEU’s Back to School Program.“The 24th MEU and (1/2) are sponsoring 12 schools in the area, giving them a chance to improve their learning environment with new desks and other schools supplies like backpacks, pens and pencils,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Fritz, 35, an Alexandria, Va., native, and Civil Affairs Chief attached to BLT 1/2.Throughout the school year, companies from the battalion will visit schools and make notes of needed improvements. They also listen to concerns from teachers and head masters as to what else they can do to help out the school.“If the companies have the means to support some of the smaller projects, they will go ahead and do them,” said Fritz. “This includes things like painting and removing trash from the area.”Many of the schools in the area are in poor condition, and most of the teachers are paid little.“Most of these places have spartan learning conditions,” added Fritz. “They have two to three kids per desk and very little in the way of educational extras. That is what we are trying to provide.”Along with making small improvements, the Marines from the Civil Affairs Group are also working on getting other items for the schools such as blackboards and athletic equipment.Additionally, the MEU is looking into installing two wells at two of the schools to provide drinking water.So far, the Marines have received a mostly warm reception.“Some of the faculty have been slightly hesitant to work with us at first, but once they find out our purpose they are a little more cooperative,” said Cpl. Boris S. Diazmanzur, 26, a Fairfax, Va., native, and civil affairs Marine attached to the 24th MEU. “The best thing, though, is to see the kids smile when they see us.” “The kids are the future of this country,” said Fritz. “By doing this program, we allow (the Iraqis) to see a different side of Americans than the ones kicking in doors and waving weapons in their face.”“Hopefully (the people) will see the Americans are here to benefit all Iraqis and learn to trust us through their children,” added Fritz. “I think the key is to have the Marines interact with the kids. It allows them to relax a little and show their true face. That is the key to winning the population over.”