BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The commander of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, announced the start of a mission that is expected to bring more than $2 million in funding for school refurbishment, expansion of the Bawi Canal, construction of the Kanassa windmills and micro-grants for small businesses in the Salman Pak area southeast of Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Michael Shrout announced the program, dubbed "Operation Iron Gator," during the ground breaking for improvements to the Mada'in High School, Jan. 8. Brigade officials said the program is intended to improve the infrastructure and quality of life in Salman Pak while building the capacity of the government agencies that operate and maintain schools and other public facilities. Funding for the projects comes from the Commanders Emergency Relief Program.

"This is an important event," said Shrout. "The people of Marquez Mada'in, coalition forces, the Sawah (Sons of Iraq), and the Iraqi security forces have accomplished a great deal over the past year. We have built up great momentum and the progress needs to continue."

The 2/6th is part of the Baumholder, Germany-based 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which is currently operating here as part of Multi-National Division - Baghdad.

Without understanding between MND-B Soldiers and community leaders, improved services would not be possible and there would no progress or stability in the region, said Kadim Attia, chairman of the Marquez Mada'in Nahia Council.

"The progress in the region depends on the willingness of the people and local government to push for (progress)," he said.

Shrout praised the Mada'in High School project, as well as the other the ongoing and planned projects that are part of Operation Iron Gator.

"This is a great day for the young men of the Marquez Mada'in," he said. "Soon their school will be refurbished by an Iraqi company, with local labor, secured by Iraqi security forces and the Sawah. I am pleased that coalition forces can play a part in the future of the Marquez Mada'in. We want to see you prosper."

"We will soon begin a major project to expand the capacity of the Bawi Canal to allow for a greater volume of water to flow through the canal, benefiting the entire Qada. There will be additional school projects and a major effort to work on the electrical power grid," said Shrout.

Progress in the area is just beginning, said Attia.

"This is a good beginning, a strong beginning," Attia said, after the first shovels of dirt were overturned and the ribbon was cut to mark the start of the school project and Operation Iron Gator.

"Now we are able to rebuild," he said. "People are going back to their normal lives and security and reconciliation are taking place."