• TAJI, Iraq - Sgt. Charles Snyder, a squad leader with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, hands out pencils to Iraqi children counting in English inside a newly opened school in Malahma July 24. Insurgents blew up the school in 2007 days before it opened, but 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Government of Iraq helped refurbish and reopen the school so local children would have a closer school to attend. Snyder, a Grandview, Wash., native handed out pencils and helped provide security alongside ISF and 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt., Soldiers.

    Newly opened school

    TAJI, Iraq - Sgt. Charles Snyder, a squad leader with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, hands out pencils to Iraqi children counting in English inside a newly opened school in Malahma July 24. Insurgents blew up the school in 2007...

  • TAJI, Iraq - Staff Sgt. Benjamin Forshey, a platoon sergeant with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, holds a pencil as a mass of hands spring toward him during a school opening in Malahma July 24. Local children no longer have to walk nearly 10 kilometers to get to school because of the efforts of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Iraqi Security Forces and local contractors.

    Children

    TAJI, Iraq - Staff Sgt. Benjamin Forshey, a platoon sergeant with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, holds a pencil as a mass of hands spring toward him during a school opening in Malahma July 24. Local children no longer have to...

  • TAJI, Iraq - An Iraqi singer entertains a crowd of United States and Iraqi Security Forces, and members of local councils at the opening ceremony of a school in Malahma July 24. The school, which was blown up by insurgents just days before its original opening in 2007, opened with the help of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Government of Iraq.

    Singer

    TAJI, Iraq - An Iraqi singer entertains a crowd of United States and Iraqi Security Forces, and members of local councils at the opening ceremony of a school in Malahma July 24. The school, which was blown up by insurgents just days before its original...

  • TAJI, Iraq - Pfc. James Rhoton (foreground), an infantryman, and Sgt. Curtis Lohr, a team leader, both with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, watch out the windows of a school in Malahma during the opening ceremony of the school July 24. The school, which was blown up by insurgents at the height of the Surge, opened with the help of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Government of Iraq. Rhoton, a Katy, Texas, native, and Lohr, a Chicago native, are both serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

    Opening ceremony

    TAJI, Iraq - Pfc. James Rhoton (foreground), an infantryman, and Sgt. Curtis Lohr, a team leader, both with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, watch out the windows of a school in Malahma during the opening...

  • TAJI, Iraq - Iraqi media set up cameras while Iraqi Security Forces provide rooftop security during the opening of a school in Malahma July 24. The school, which was blown up by insurgents at the height of the Surge, opened without any incidents with the  help of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Government of Iraq.

    Rooftop security

    TAJI, Iraq - Iraqi media set up cameras while Iraqi Security Forces provide rooftop security during the opening of a school in Malahma July 24. The school, which was blown up by insurgents at the height of the Surge, opened without any incidents with...

TAJI, Iraq - Nearly three years ago, one of the largest operations of "The Surge" in Iraq took place as coalition forces launched Operation Phantom Thunder against insurgents operating throughout the country.

However, on June 17, 2007, one day after the operation began, insurgents struck back against coalition forces, the Government of Iraq and the people of Taji, sending a message of violence and destroying more than a year of hard work spent improving the educational facilities in the area.

Just days before its grand opening, insurgents set off explosives inside the walls of a newly built school in Malahma, leveling much of the building, which had been under construction since 2006.

The destroyed school remained abandoned over the next few years due to high levels of insurgent activity around the area and the services of the coalition forces being needed elsewhere.

Recently, a decrease in violence, brought on by a partnership between U.S. forces and a strengthened Iraqi Security Force, has allowed the school to be refurbished.

The project was passed on to 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment leaders by their predecessors and work began almost immediately to refurbish the school and give local children a safer way to obtain an education.

Prior to the project's completion, children had to walk nearly 10 kilometers to get to the nearest school, taking chances traveling along a busy highway.

Even though the Malahma School was closer, the environment was not conducive to learning, said 1st Lt. Eric Richards, an assistant fire-support officer with 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt.

Richards recalled walking through the school for the first time before reconstruction began and was how he was struck by its state of disrepair.

"It looked horrible," said Richards, a Lacey, Wash., native. "The whole middle portion was gone. [The contractors] actually built about 50 percent of the structure as it stands right now," he said.

In an effort to boost the local economy, local contractors were hired to refurbish the school, a project totaling $500,000.

Reconstruction began in mid-April and concluded a few weeks ago, with the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted July 24.

Lt. Col. Mike Lawrence, commander of 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt., assisted in cutting the ceremonial ribbon for the new school and spoke during the ceremony.

"This structure shares a long history from origination of local concerns for the area, insurgent activity resulting in its destruction, and the perseverance of the Iraqi people to see the project to completion," said Lawrence.

For Soldiers with 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt., 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, who are slated to be the last combat brigade in Iraq before the Aug. 31 responsible drawdown of forces, the school's opening is an indication that major improvements have been made over the past few years and serves as a final stepping stone for U.S. forces on their way back to the States.

"It's a good capstone for the deployment," said Richards. "We're leaving soon, and this has been the best project that we've had thus far."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16