Battered, looted school opens doors again
BAGHDAD — More than 300 students ages 6 to 11 benefited the most when a school that had been damaged in war and looted in peace was opened for the new school year.
But the widest smile belonged to Lt. Col. Chuck Williams, the commander of 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, which is now far from its home in Büdingen, Germany.
“I love kids,” he said, although it wasn’t necessary to say the words. His actions spoke volumes. “The kids don’t lie. They tell you. They are happy you are here.”
His squadron was instrumental in getting this school in a Baghdad neighborhood near the airport repaired and opened for the school year.
“They thought they wouldn’t have a school this year, but now they do,” said Williams, prior to the grand opening Monday of the Al Ta’akhe school. The name, new this year, means “brotherhood.”
Williams’ troops helped coordinate work and funding for a local contractor, and provided many supplies for the school.
“They are the heroes,” said Muneer Moh’amed, director of the municipality in the area known as Farat.
Everything, was taken from the school, even bricks, he said.
Raheem Ali, the headmaster, said the school was important to the children in the Farat neighborhood, an area greatly damaged in war. The school grounds, in fact, became a battleground.
“If this school did not exist, these students would be distributed to many schools,” he said. “They would be far from their homes. They would face difficulties.”
Williams said the project of getting this school open for the new year was a great boost to unit morale.
Capt. Bert Lecroix, part of the 411th Civil Affairs in support of the 1st Cavalry Regiment, said, “It’s good for the soldiers because they get an opportunity to see that not everyone in Iraq is bad. This gives the guy sitting in an [observation post] or tank the opportunity to see that there are good people.”
It was hard not to be touched by the event. The students stood in near-military formation for long, long minutes waiting for all the dignitaries to arrive. They applauded speeches designed mostly for older ears.
And when the event ended, they marched smartly to their respective classrooms.
Sgt. Ronald Cabral, a tank mechanic, said, “It gives you a reason for being here. You actually have a purpose for you being here.”
Williams has bigger plans. The entire facility is surrounded by a wall, which has been repaired. An empty, broken building on the compound is destined to be a neighborhood clinic.
“We’ve already leveled the ground out back for a soccer field,” said Williams.
It’s a good bet, then, that the “brotherhood” school hasn’t seen the last of these cavalry soldiers.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” said Spc. Chris Kealoha, a medic. “It’s nice to see the appreciative side of Iraq, you know what I mean. Smiling Iraqis.”