- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

U.S. reservists from a Denver-based combat engineer battalion have adopted a small village in northern Iraq, where — on their own time — they are building playground equipment and restoring an irrigation well.

Army engineers from Fort Lewis, Wash., have resurrected a water-treatment plant in Al Zaqiyyah, freeing Iraqis there from the scourge of dysentery.

Soldiers from Abilene, Texas, have rebuilt a dilapidated school near Ar Ramadi, and off-duty sailors from Corpus Christi, Texas, made small picnic tables for the children of Umm Qasr.

Elsewhere, American troops are volunteering to fix up orphanages, schools and hospitals, and even kicking in cash from their own pockets to buy refrigerators, stoves and beds for needy Iraqis.

Far from the headlines about the U.S. military mission in Iraq, American GIs are making these sorts of contributions daily to help mend Iraq, both from the ravages of combat and from a decade of neglect while the country was under U.N. economic sanctions to punish Saddam Hussein.

“There are more than 5,000 different projects that our troops have done while at the same time they are trying to bring security to Iraq,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers said recently. “Every day they go beyond what is asked of them to find new ways to make things better.”

Accounts of these efforts can be found on U.S. military Internet sites, which some critics might dismiss as puffery or propaganda, or little more than a drop in the bucket to slake the needs of Iraqis.

But the soldiers quoted in these stories uniformly cite their participation in these projects as the most satisfying, if least heralded, part of their duty in Iraq.

“Americans who disagree with what we are doing might understand how much we are helping this country and its people,” Army Pfc. Amber Bryant, a 1st Armored Division medic in Baghdad, said in an Army Web site story. “Maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday, people will see the change we made.”

Here is a sampling of a few of the projects conceived and carried out by U.S. troops:

• A battalion of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division is hooking up Americans with Iraqi villages, organizing an “adopt-a-village” campaign for sending “care” packages of school supplies, sports equipment, toiletry items and canned food.

So far, the 426th Forward Support Battalion has signed up the city of Salem, Utah, several Minnesota residents and a Tennessee car dealership to help two villages.

• An Army reservist with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Green Bay, Wis., dreamed up the “Backpacks for Iraq” project, which aims to ship 2,000 donated packs filled with school supplies given by people in Wisconsin and elsewhere. So far, the soldier has distributed 120 packs, with another truckload on the way.

• The Combined Joint Task Force-Seven started a “Beanies for Baghdad” program, delivering more than 7,000 Beanie Babies and 1,000 classroom items to Baghdad neighborhoods and children’s hospital wards.

• The Army Reserve’s 171st Area Support Group in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq collected money from its soldiers to buy stoves, refrigerators, fans, televisions and kitchen tables and chairs for three orphanages, which the troops have taken under their wing, in a city where fierce fighting raged during the initial days of the war.

• The Army’s 244th Engineer Combat Battalion from Denver has dedicated itself to fixing up the Al Saquor village, population 1,244, near Tikrit in northern Iraq. Soldiers have volunteered once or twice a week to do everything from hauling away rubble and leveling a soccer field to building playground equipment, repairing bicycles and treating minor medical maladies.

• Soldiers from the Army’s 490th Civil Affairs Battalion from Abilene, along with others from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, have rebuilt a school from the ground up in a village outside Ar Ramadi — adding a new roof, a bathroom, water tanks, fans, windows and chalkboards.

• Naval Coastal Warfare sailors delivered 200 packages of school supplies — after a San Diego church donated $800 to ship them — to poor children in the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr. On their own time, sailors with the Inshore Boat Unit 15 from Corpus Christi constructed 16 child-sized picnic tables, using scrap lumber from war materiel.

• Seabees from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, based in Port Hueneme, Calif., supervised a wholesale renovation of a girls’ high school in Najaf in south-central Iraq. The school now has freshly painted rooms and new electrical wiring, lighting, ceiling fans and bathrooms. The $72,000 needed for the project came from funds confiscated from Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

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