RAMADI, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 29, 2009) -- With more than 1,135 school projects already completed and operational, the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District in Iraq finished and turned over its most recent project, the Al-Mazraa elementary school here to the Iraqi Ministry of Education last week.

Paul Ijames, project engineer for the Al-Mazraa School and several other schools in Al-Anbar providence, has been overseeing a variety of essential service projects in Iraq over the past 18-months.

"I've been involved with many things, but school projects like this are right at the top of the list since they provide many children access to an education they would otherwise not have been able to get," he said. "We're making a difference in people's lives."

According to Ijames, one of reasons this project was so exceptional was due to the pride the Iraqi workers displayed through the school's construction.

"It's their children, nephews and nieces, and other kids residing in that neighborhood who will be going to school there," Ijames said. "They now have a good environment in which they can learn."

The new six-classroom school replaces an old two-room house which served as the school. The new one will accommodate 200 to 300 students and their teachers. The complex includes administrative offices, playground, guard house, backup generator, a security wall around the entire school property, and school furniture.

Local leaders, residents as well as the children are excited about the completion of the new school.

Hamed, a 7-year-old boy who will attend the new school, stood at the entrance with his friend and said with a big smile, "This will be my school - thank you for giving me a new school."

"You can see it in the smiles of the local residents who are diligently working everyday to provide a brighter future for their children and grandchildren," said Ijames. "They know that the key to success is hard work and education. Just like in the United States, their schools are the heart of their community - a place for hope."

The Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq has completed thousands of reconstruction projects in partnership with the U.S. and Iraq governments. Since 2004, USACE has completed 5,257 projects in the country valued at more than $9.1 billion, and currently has 350 projects ongoing.