JERF AL-MILA, Iraq - Iraqi Army soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized) are taking part in a program designed to reach out to Iraqi school children throughout villages in which the battalion operates.

In much the same way policemen visit schools in the United States in crime prevention programs, the battalion's troops kicked off their "Junior Hero" program at an elementary school here Oct. 17 to give the children an understanding of the roles that Iraqi Security Forces play in their local community and to promote volunteerism.

An Iraqi soldier was hand-picked by the 3rd battalion as a spokesperson and role model to speak to the children and to make them honorary Iraqi "junior heroes."

The Iraqi soldier who was chosen as the "junior hero," explained the program as a way for the children to show pride in their country and themselves while also learning about the meaning of honor and integrity.

"We teach them that they are junior heroes through their volunteerism. I'm glad to give to these children because they are my brothers and sisters," said the 3rd Battalion junior hero, who chose not to have his name released due to security reasons. "I hope I can protect them and provide them with good advice that will make their lives better. It is my duty to protect them from terrorists.

"These children are going to make a better future for Iraq. It's good for the kids to see us out here doing these things and see that they shouldn't be afraid of the Iraqi Army soldiers," he added, explaining that sometimes children are a little intimidated when they see soldiers in uniforms with helmets and donning rifles.

During the event, Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd Bn. handed out comic books, crayons, back packs with school supplies and other goodies to the children. The comic book featured an adventure story about the Iraqi Security Forces defeating terrorism.

In an introduction to the program, the Iraqi Army junior hero addressed the children.
"I'm here to talk to you about your Iraqi Security Forces and how you can help secure our country," said the junior hero to the assembled students. "I am here today to also tell you about a new program that is starting and it involves you-the children of Iraq. This program is called "junior hero" and it means that even the youth can be an influence in our country.

"My job entails me helping our country of Iraq, and we are out there to protect you and your family from terrorists," the junior hero added. "The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police work together to make sure your community is safe and secure. The Iraqi Security Forces are patrolling the streets everyday so that you can get an education. When you see your Iraqi Security Forces, do not be afraid, but have faith that we are out there to be your protectors."

After explaining the program to the children, the junior hero led the children in the "allegiance for good" oath which inducted the children as junior heroes.

Raising their right hands, the children promised to be loyal and honest to their family and their country along with being obedient to their parents and treating them with respect. They promised to treat their teachers and people in their community with respect and to honor the Iraqi Police and Iraqi soldiers who are in their community to protect them.

As with similar programs in the U.S., the children also swore to report any crimes that they see in their neighborhoods.

The children then donned a badge sticker which read "Junior Hero: loyalty, obedient to parents and honesty" in Arabic wording.

Once the junior hero had inducted the students as honorary junior heroes, he chose a child from the assembly and had her lead the classes in singing the Iraqi National Anthem.

Soldiers from Troop D, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, attached to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment and Soldiers from the 3rd Bn., 2nd Bde., 9th IA Div. (Mech.) Military Transition Team (MTT) were on hand during the event only for assistance with security and to assist the Iraqis with transporting items for the children.

The Troop D Soldiers and MTT members present at the event said they were impressed with how the Iraqi troops are working to reach out to the children in the local communities.

"This is a good opportunity for the Iraqi Army to restore and renew faith in the Iraqi Security Forces, allowing the children an opportunity to see them in a different light-to see them as people and not just as guards on their street corner," said Anchorage, Alaska native Capt. Martin Wohlgemuth, commander, Troop D, 1st Bn., 82nd FA Regt. "This partnership between the Iraqi Army and the local nationals shows some of the types of things you can do when you have improved security-you can't bring essential services or simple events like these if you don't have security."

Wohlgemuth, whose troopers have been working closely with Iraqi Security Forces, local area tribal sheiks and the Iraqi Security volunteers in the village to improve security, have seen a lot of changes over the past several months. Their collective efforts have driven Al Qaeda extremists from the area.

The Troop D commander said that the children in the village know first hand the types of things the Iraqi Security Forces working with Coalition troops have done to create a much more secure environment, citing the example that for nearly two years little girls in the village were not allowed to go to school due to threats and attacks by Al Qaeda operatives who warned parents against sending their daughters to school.

"There's a little girl at school today whose father was killed by a car bomb (planted by Al Qaeda extremists) and three weeks ago, we bought her a new dress for school-and before, we couldn't have done that because of Al Qaeda," said Wohlgemuth.

Maj. John Atilano, team leader for the 3rd Bn., 2nd Bde., 9th IA Div. (Mech.) MTT who spends his time in country advising the Iraqi troops had his own take on the Iraqi-led Junior Hero program and what it meant for the children.

"This is the way it should be with Iraqis leading the way to help their people," said Atilano, who hails from Orange Vale, Calif. "This is awesome for them. When these children grow up and become military age they're going to be the true Iraqi heroes, they won't be the guys digging holes for improvised explosive devices. It's the sons and daughters of Iraq that are going to save the country."