HAWIJAH, Iraq - Coalition Soldiers recently developed a literacy program and opened it to 500 Sons of Iraq members in four sub-districts of Hawijah, Iraq: Zaab, Abassi, Riyadh, and Hawijah city, areas many military officials considered lost only a year ago, on June 15.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Education, 5.6 million local nationals are illiterate, including 30 percent of the population in Hawijah.

Under the literacy program - envisioned by Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of Multi-National Force - Iraq, and carried out by Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division - Iraqi teachers are teaching Iraqi males ages 18-30 how to read and write and preparing them for the application process for Iraqi Police and Army candidates.

"This program is geared to assist in the transition process for SOI into the Iraq Security Forces," said 1st Lt. Steven Johnson, 1st Bn, 87th Inf. Regt., civil affairs team chief. "It will be the model for the future national literacy campaign."

"I can't apply for a job with the Iraqi Army because I can't read the job application or write my name," Ali Hussein Ali said. "Everything gets easier when you can read," he said. Ali plans on applying to the IA once he graduates.

One school per district has been set up to accommodate around 125 students, divided into five classes. The teacher-to-student ratio in each classroom is 1 to 25. The classes will be held 5-days a week, 4-hours a day for approximately four months, and will teach the students at a 3rd to 4th grade reading level.

The success of the program is based on the participation of those enrolled and their leadership, who are responsible for ensuring attendance, said Lt. Col. Christopher Vanek, the commander of the 1st Bn., 87 Inf. Regt. According to Johnson, participants will be paid five dollars for every day they attend class in addition to their SOI salary.

In the city of Hawijah, the first day of class began with more than 60 SOI students hand-picked by their leadership. They attended orientation, signed in, met their teachers and received books and school supplies.

"It's up to the Iraqi participants' desire to improve their personal lives. The Ministry of Education, Hawijah's Directorate General of Education, and the SOI leadership have worked exceptionally hard to provide this opportunity to the citizens of the Hawijah district." Vanek said.

"I couldn't go to school in the past because it was too dangerous. I want to have an education. I want to be able to read and write. There was no hope until now," said Ahmad Magebi Abdullah, a Sunni-Arab attending the class.

It will cost coalition forces around $450 per student for the initial instruction, but Johnson said Iraq's Ministry of Education will fund future programs.

"Its money well spent. The true Al Qaeda in Iraq uses this lack of education to generate willingness to participate in their activities, said Vanek, noting that based on first-hand knowledge and prior analysis of past detainees, "the majority of their membership is illiterate and uneducated."

"This is a great opportunity that our government is giving us. We are thankful to them and the coalition forces for creating this program. Being able to read and write will open doors that have remained closed to many of our people," said Mohammed Abdullatif Subuh, the head supervisor for the city of Hawijah's literacy program.

Subuh, a teacher here for over 30 years, has lost nine schools to AQI. "They destroy anything that will better our people. Americans have only supported our efforts to rebuild," he said.

(Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson serves with the 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs Office.)