COB ADDER, Iraq - Relationships are built one step at a time. For 287th Sustainment Brigade Civilian Military operations (CMO), that process might be best described as one word at a time. That was the objective of their "Read Iraq" program -- teaching English to Iraqi students by reading to them at Al Ashyabb School in Dhi Qar province on Jan. 12.
The "Read Iraq" program is a CMO project which places volunteer Soldiers, assisted by interpreters, in Iraqi school rooms to read children's stories. The students are learning English as a second language. The children learn how to pronounce words correctly and about Western culture. Al Ashyabb is the first school to take advantage of the program in southern Iraq," said Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Parker, 287th CMO Operations Sergeant.
"We performed a practice run at the Al Habib school two weeks earlier and from that experience learned that we needed to choose readers that have a natural knack for reading to children. The ability to use body language to suggest meaning of the words is as important as the ability to read clearly," said 287th CMO Chief Lt. Col. Clint Moyer.
"Many Soldiers volunteered to do the reading, but we chose the ones that showed they could bond with the children. They appeared comfortable while reading and they used their hands and facial expressions to support what they were saying," he said.
It was no surprise then that the two Soldiers reading at Al Ashyabb school that day were members of large families.
Brigade Supply Specialist Spc. Cassandra Miller, 20, from Newton, Kan. has four brothers and three sisters, four of whom are younger than her. She joined the Kansas Army National Guard while a senior at Newton High School and, after graduation, worked as an administrative clerk for the Kansas Guard recruiting command.
On Monday, she read to a class of 20 children, ranging in age from 4 to 11. Individually, the children had been learning English from one to four years.
"I read to them from two books, one about training a pet dog, and another one about farm animals," she said. "The kids appeared to know a lot of the animal names and were happy to join in when I growled 'grrrrr' and barked 'arf! arf!"
"After reading, we wrote the English and Arabic alphabets on the chalk board and sounded out each letter. Then the children wanted me to write down my name in English, which I did but in single letters. They asked me to write it again, but the next time in cursive. When I did that, they 'oohed' and 'aahed' and said that it was beautiful. They said the cursive form of English looked more like their Arabic form of writing."
"They also knew how to tell me their names and ages in English. Two children knew English well enough we could understand one another with only a little help from the interpreter," she said.
The reading was a heart-warming event for her. "When the kids told me that they loved me, I wanted to cry," said Miller. "I loved doing the reading so much, I want to do it again."
Sgt. Teresa Perrin, 37, is a patient administrator for the 287th Brigade Surgeon staff and is from Junction City, Kan. She is in Iraq with her husband Staff Sgt. McKindree Perrin, who is a member of the 287th Brigade Personal Security Detachment. She has three daughters from a previous marriage, ages 11, 16, and 19, and works as a Guard technician in civilian life at Ft. Riley, Kan.
"The 14 or 15 kids were a tough crowd," said Sgt. Perrin. "They were 1st and 2nd graders and hadn't started learning English yet. By the looks on their faces I could tell they were probably thinking 'who's this crazy lady'' But overall I think it was a good experience for all of us.'"
"We had fun. In my first book I read to them about animals on a farm. I'd say the animal's name and then they'd repeat it first in English, then in Arabic. If they said it right, I'd give them a lollipop."
"My second book was about a fox trying to steal grapes. The fox story was probably the best received. That's because the children found similarities about it to a popular Iraqi story about a fox which goes on a religious journey."
"The last lesson I gave was about Kansas. I brought out pictures of things which represent our state - a buffalo, sunflowers, cows, and a tornado. The tornado got them really excited," said Perrin.
Reflecting later on her classroom presentation, Perrin said, "I loved it. I thought it was a tremendously awesome experience. It feels good to give something back to the Iraqi people, and I want to go on more missions. I'm going to ask if I can go again."
Al Ashyabb school was built with the assistance of the 7th Sustainment Brigade and opened in November 2008. The 287th Sustainment Brigade continues to assist the school.